A bill aimed at stopping alleged energy price gouging heads to the House floor today, despite uncertainty over whether Democrats have the votes to pass it.
Multiple Democratic lawmakers predicted a very tight vote. With a narrow majority, Democrats can only afford to lose six votes and still pass the legislation without any Republican support.
“I gotta believe we are going to get this passed. I would think people on both sides would see the merit,” said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), who helped lead an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing last month with oil executives into claims of price gouging (E&E Daily, April 7).
Tonko, chair of the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, conceded some Democrats are concerned that the bill, which would enhance Federal Trade Commission oversight of fuel markets, was “injecting a political solution into an economic problem.”
A Democratic lawmaker, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, did not believe the votes were yet there to pass it as of yesterday. The lawmaker however, also said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would not allow the vote to move ahead if she knew it would fail.
A spokesperson for Pelosi did not respond to a request for comment.
A senior House aide, who was granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak, said yesterday that there were no plans to pull the bill.
“[S]eems like we are still on that track. Not hearing anything that would cause us to pull the bill,” the aide said.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), chief deputy whip, confirmed yesterday Democrats were whipping the legislation that earlier in the week seemed like a routine messaging measure that was certain to pass. He declined to offer a whip count.
Asked to sum up the reason some Democrats were opposed, Kildee said simply, “Summers,” a reference to Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary who met with moderate Democrats last week and argued the legislation would do little to bring down energy prices and perhaps, worsen inflation.
Another potential obstacle to moderate support yesterday surfaced when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out against the bill and said it would use it as a key vote in rating lawmakers.
The opposition from the Chamber could be a factor for some centrist Democrats who would rather not be at odds with the influential business lobby.
The Chamber warned in a letter sent to lawmakers the bill “would impose price controls on fuel sales that would discourage new energy production. The result could be rationing, gas lines and a much greater dependence on imported energy sources at a time when our allies are looking for the U.S. to increase our own production.”
House Republicans have echoed those sentiments. An email from GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee was titled “Socialist Price Controls Will Bring Back 1970s Gas Lines.”
The bill did clear one obstacle yesterday when Democrats approved a rule, 218-202, to allow it to be debated today. However, the rule included other measures to guarantee support.
Schumer vows vote
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday vowed to hold a vote on the House bill, although the exact timing remains fluid.
Schumer noted the House legislation draws provisions from a Senate proposal, S. 4217, introduced by Commerce, Science and Technology Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) last week.
Those provisions would create a new enforcement unit at the FTC for fuel markets, increase fines and require the U.S. Energy Information Administration to make more fuel pricing data public (E&E Daily, May 18).
“I spoke with Speaker Pelosi,” Schumer told reporters. “We decided to combine them. Hopefully, they’re going to send them over here.”
Cantwell defended the need for action to bolster the FTC, even as moderates have so far balked at the proposal.
“We gave this authority to electricity and natural gas markets, and it’s helped police those markets,” Cantwell said. “There are nefarious actors who do take the fact that you have short supply and can do things that are really driving up the price … it’s worth getting transparency.”
While Schumer is promising a floor vote, it’s not expected to pass in the evenly divided Senate, where 60 votes are needed to advance any major legislation.
GOP energy plans
Senate Republicans meanwhile launched their own salvo against the Biden administration and Democrats’ price gouging allegations.
Republicans were dismissive of the White House’s claims of alleged price gouging, and instead, blame the Biden administration’s energy policies as the culprit in limiting new production.
“Right now, we’ve got an administration whose plan is to blame anybody but themselves and their policies,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “This is not something where you can just blame Big Oil and go after price gouging. … [I]t really comes down to basic supply and demand.”
The GOP offered new legislation to address energy demands and pressed the administration to take action.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, led a group of Republicans this week in introducing legislation, S. 4228, that would require the Interior Department to hold lease sales onshore and offshore.
A second bill, S. 4229, would “empower states to manage the development and production of oil and gas on federal lands within their borders,” according to a release.
Separately, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led a letter of 22 Republicans to the Commerce Department to press officials at NOAA Fisheries to stop blocking seismic permit applications that the senators argue are needed for offshore exploratory work.