WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 27 -- US Senate Republicans on Apr. 27 introduced legislation including a $100 tax rebate aimed at relieving the impact of higher gasoline prices on consumers.
The legislation, which was filed late the previous day as an amendment to HR 4939, the supplemental appropriations bill, also would repeal tax incentives for oil companies and expand incentives to encourage use of hybrid vehicles and expand refining capacity.
"Consumers are feeling pain at the pump, and Republicans are moving aggressively to address their concerns," Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said.
The legislation also would give the Federal Trade Commission, Justice Department, and states' attorneys-general authority to move against suspected price-gougers, according to a fact sheet issued by the sponsors.
It also would give US Transportation Sec. Norman Y. Mineta authority to issue new passenger vehicle fuel economy standards, urge the administration of President George W. Bush to quit buying crude oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for 6 months, authorize leasing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain, and promote alternative fuel and vehicle research and development.
"I think this package does everything possible in the short-term to ease the burden on consumers and bring down gasoline prices," said Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici, one of the cosponsors. "I am particularly pleased that we are easing the burden on American families by providing them with a $100 rebate to help offset the pain they are feeling at the pump."
Others include Republicans Conrad Burns of Montana, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, James M. Talent of Missouri, and John Thune of South Dakota.
Frist asked Senate Democrats to work with Republicans in addressing consumer discomfort. "Democratic obstruction has stifled domestic energy production, and current Democratic finger-pointing not only obscures their record but does nothing to help consumers now. Our plan, however, does," he declared.
Senate Democrats disagreed. "It is disappointing that neither sky-rocketing gas prices nor obscene oil company profits can break the bond between Bush Republicans and big oil," said Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "Americans are struggling to pay the rising cost of gas, and they are not interested in handouts to help oil companies make more money by letting them drill in wildlife refuges."
Suggesting that voters want immediate relief and a new national energy policy, Reid said he found it refreshing to see Republicans adopt Democrats' proposals to lower gasoline prices. "Now it is time the Republican Congress acts to provide relief and to relieve our addiction to oil," he said.
Another Democrat charged that the Republicans' proposal is tougher on retailers than on suppliers because it would exempt wholesalers.
"Rather than cracking down on profit-rich companies like [ExxonMobil Corp.], the Republican leadership's plan goes after small mom-and-pop retailers who are often at the mercy of big oil," said Maria Cantwell of Washington, an Energy and Natural Resources Committee member.
Noting that ExxonMobil reported $8.4 billion in first-quarter earnings, Cantwell called for legislation that would make price-gouging a federal crime, increase market transparency, and more aggressively promote alternative fuel development.
Contact Nick Snow at [email protected].