In the last few weeks, John McCain proposed a Memorial Day to Labor Day suspension of the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon. This would theoretically bring relief to the average citizen now paying $3.60 a gallon and up. This is part of McCain’s economic plan, as well. Theoretically, people will take the four bucks they’ll be saving on a “fill up” and pump those big dollars back into the economy. Maybe he thinks there will be a direct response and the food industry will prosper by those savings being spent on the Twinkies, Funny Bones, and Ring Dings that stock the shelves of our local Quickie Marts and Gas Stations. As the gas tax funds the maintenance and building of roads, perhaps McCain also hopes that saved consumer dollars might be spent in the rubber industry, when consumers replace tires blown out in unaddressed potholes.
Democratic response to the proposal has been mixed. The elitist Obama has the audacity to take a “big picture” view and call the proposal an “election year gimmick” that doesn’t address the real problem of oil dependency and gas usage. He stands in the way of every American’s right to immediate junk food gratification. No metaphor, there.
Hillary Clinton has taken the McCain Proposal one step further. She would agree to the holiday if the lost revenues were regained through a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. Now there’s an idea the Hangover can get behind: Taxing those who are gauging consumers and enjoying record profits. However, one would have to be quite naive to assume that this tax wouldn’t be passed right back to the consumer. Exxon, Chevron, and the others probably have their creative staffs already fabricating an early summer crisis to blame for a can’t-be-helped 18.5 cent jump in gas prices on June 1st.
Brian Faler of Bloomberg reported that “more than 200 economists, including four Nobel prize winners signed a letter rejecting proposals”by Clinton and McCain. Reasons include the possibility of raising oil and gas usage at a time when we should be trying to lessen it, and that the increased usage would benefit oil companies while increasing the federal budget deficit. We’ve got big problems, and saving four dollars a fill up over three months isn’t going to make a dent.
At least this is the first step, no matter how small, in a direction that this country is going to have to take: Strict Government Regulation of the Oil Industry. Oil is a limited resource and we don’t have much of the world’s supply controlled domestically. It’s clear that the American oil industry will act in their own best interest, which is not the same as the country’s best interest (Do voters yet regret not having pointed that out to Bush and Cheney?). Exxon made 40.6 billion in 2007, Chevron 18.7. Meanwhile, a greater percentage of people’s incomes are going to heat their homes and drive their cars; gas prices are raising costs in every sector of the economy, and supply is lessening. These simple facts should make it obvious that the US cannot continue operating within its current oil industry model.
The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 established the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to oversee the civilian aspects of the nuclear power industry:
This Act is the fundamental U.S. law on both the civilian and the military uses of nuclear materials. On the civilian side, it provides for both the development and the regulation of the uses of nuclear materials and facilities in the United States, declaring the policy that “the development, use, and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise.” The Act requires that civilian uses of nuclear materials and facilities be licensed, and it empowers the NRC to establish by rule or order, and to enforce, such standards to govern these uses as “the Commission may deem necessary or desirable in order to protect health and safety and minimize danger to life or property.”
The red text highlights the reasoning behind the Act. The US is now at the point where oil needs to be considered in the same light as nuclear power. Conditions in America and around the world (Hello, Iraq) indictate that world peace, the general welfare, the standard of living, and free enterprise all feel Big Oil’s foot on their throat. It’s time to act–and 18.4 cents a gallon for three months just isn’t going to get it done.
(Hey, regulation isn’t so bad. We could always skip it and go right to nationalization. The 155 billion in profits these companies made last year would look pretty good in federal coffers right now.)