As gasoline prices top $4 a gallon in some parts of the country, motorists and constituents get set to point fingers at Washington and ask whether the president or Congress can do anything about it. National Journal's Energy and Environment Insiders don’t think so.
In the most recent poll, Insiders were asked whether pain at the pump will lead to new energy legislation this year, and 57 percent said they don’t think it will.
“Like baseball's Opening Day and the donning of the first halter top, nothing says `springtime' like congressional angst over gasoline prices,” one Insider joked, but was sure that comprehensive legislation is not likely.
Insiders also said that Congress can’t really do much about gas prices, as oil prices are set globally, and the United States contributes only a small part of the world’s supply.
“Almost everyone acknowledges that there is little Congress can do to affect near-term gasoline prices,” one Insider noted, echoing President Obama’s words on Tuesday.
“The truth is, the only real solution to helping families at the pump in the medium and long term is clean energy,” Obama told an audience of students and faculty at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va.
Meanwhile, other National JournalInsiders said that rising gas prices aren’t enough of a catalyst for comprehensive or meaningful energy legislation.
Even some of the 43 percent of Insiders who said that rising prices will spur lawmakers to action agreed that nothing meaningful will come from any of the bills.
One Insider said that “probably many bills” will come to the floor, but added that it's “doubtful we'll have a comprehensive package like we had in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.” Meanwhile, another argued that although legislation might pass, it won’t be anything “that will actually make a difference in gasoline prices for either the short- or long-term.”
Insiders also overwhelmingly agreed that Congress probably won't take any action to end some of the tax breaks for oil and gas industries this year, with 41 percent saying that congressional action on that front will be “somewhat unlikely” and 33 percent saying that it will be “very unlikely.”
President Obama has repeatedly presented a budget that eliminates oil and gas subsidies in favor of clean-energy investment, arguing that “the country that leads in clean energy will lead in the global economy.” But such cuts have never gotten congressional approval. And most National Journal Energy and Environment Insiders say that they won’t make it again.
“There’s no incentive for House Republicans to give them up,” one Insider said, as other Insiders argued that high gas prices and calls for increased domestic supply would block any such efforts.
The only way ending the subsidies would even enter the discussion, Insiders said, would be “for budgetary reasons” or as “part of the bigger-picture deficit discussions regarding overhaul of the tax code.”
Although not one Insider argued that eliminating the subsidies would be “very likely,” 27 percent said that they are “somewhat likely,” with perhaps some modifications.
“It’d be hugely popular on the telephone town halls (now that they’re not done in person),” one Insider said.
Others argued that sweeping cuts to subsidies have hit a wall before, but added that the proposals would see more success in Congress if they targeted major oil companies.
“The major oil companies could be a target compared to the smaller, independent companies that drill 95 percent of the nation's oil and gas wells,” an insider said.
Will rising gasoline prices lead to new energy legislation this year?
- Yes 43%
- No 57%
“Americans arguably react more forcefully and uniformly to rising pump prices than any other issue, and Congress does react to such public pressure, as demonstrated in 2008 when it allowed the offshore moratorium to expire, even in spite of overwhelming Democrat majorities.”
“Congress has an irresistible urge to 'do something' in response to high gasoline prices--the Senate has more interest in energy legislation, but has adopted to move a series of narrower bills rather than a single comprehensive bill. Even if the House refuses to act in response to high gasoline prices, the Senate will probably pass something that purports to address energy security, putting the House in a position where it reacts to the Senate or is seen to ignore public concerns. “
“Yes, to debate most certainly … consummated enactment? Not betting the ranch yet.”
“Particularly if they surpass $4.50--and the backdrop of continuing unrest in the Middle East could help to spur legislation as well.”
"Like baseball's Opening Day and the donning of the first halter top, nothing says 'springtime' like congressional angst over gasoline prices. Both sides know their lines and where to stand when the curtain goes up. And yet, decades of investigations produce the same result--global oil prices drive domestic gasoline prices, not cigar-smoking oil industry executives sequestered in a dark room.”
“The only way consumers can spend less is to move to more fuel-efficient vehicles.”
“I expect both the House and Senate will pass separate energy bills, but that the two chambers will be unable to agree on an approach in conference. Both parties can then claim credit for attempting to address high gasoline prices and blame the other party if prices rise further. ”
“Legislation will certainly be offered, but there are no compromises that would make both demand-cutters and supply-increasers happy.”
“There will be movement on a bill to respond to gas prices, but there will not be a comprehensive energy bill that addresses our critical need for an energy strategy as a country.”
How likely is it that Congress will end at least some of the tax breaks for oil and gas industries this year?
- Very Likely 0%
- Somewhat Likely 27%
- Somewhat Unlikely 41%
- Very Unlikely 33%
“If they are at all paying attention to what the public wants, and if they are principled in their desire to cut wasteful spending, then cutting tax breaks for oil and gas companies should be a no-brainer.”
“Somewhat likely--at least some modification, and possibly limited to the five supermajors.”
“If action on oil/gas industry tax provisions is taken, it is likely to be done only to major integrated oil companies and then only as part of a larger deal on corporate tax reform. I doubt that happens this year.”
“Any action on said tax breaks ought to be part of new energy legislation, rather than being selectively addressed.”
“First, the people most in favor of cutting the subsidies have picked on items that aren’t really oil and gas subsidies. Second, when gasoline prices are high, voters don’t want any policies that might push the prices even higher.”
“Conservatives have complained loudly about stimulus support for renewable energy and efficiency and the need to balance the federal budget, but so far have shown little appetite to curb long-standing subsidies for oil, gas and coal--companies that are among the world’s most profitable.”
“Much more likely next year.”
“The reason any would be ended would be for budgetary reasons, as that reality settles in.”
“Although most of these tax breaks are indefensible, I don‘t see the Republicans agreeing to repeal them in the absence of a mega-budget deal. “
“This may be part of the bigger-picture deficit discussions regarding overhaul of the tax code, but that will happen after the elections.”
National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of energy policy experts. They include:
Jeff Anderson, Paul Bailey, Kenneth Berlin, Denise Bode, Kevin Book, David Brown, Neil Brown, Stephen Brown, Kateri Callahan, McKie Campbell, Guy Caruso, Paul Cicio, Douglas Clapp, Eileen Claussen, Steve Cochran, Phyllis Cuttino, Kyle Danish, Lee Dehihns, Robbie Diamond, Bob Dinneen, Sean Donahue, Jeff Duncan, John Felmy, Mike Ference, David Foster, Josh Freed, Don Furman, Paul Gilman, Richard Glick, Kate Gordon, Chuck Gray, Jason Grumet, Christopher Guith, Lewis Hay, Jeff Holmstead, David Holt, Skip Horvath, Bob Irvin, Bill Johnson, Gene Karpinski, Joseph T. Kelliher, Brian Kennedy, Kevin Knobloch, David Kreutzer, Fred Krupp, Tom Kuhn, Mindy Lubber, Drew Maloney, Roger Martella, John McArther, Mike McKenna, Bill McKibben, David Miller, Kristina Moore, Richard Myers, Aric Newhouse, Frank O'Donnell, Mike Olson, T. Boone Pickens, Hal Quinn, Rhone Resch, Barry Russell, Joseph Schultz, Bob Simon, Scott Sklar, Bill Snape, Jeff Sterba, Christine Tezak, Susan Tierney, Andrew Wheeler, Brian Wolff, and Todd Young.
This article appears in the April 21, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.