Play it Again, Senator Cantwell

iStock_000002262509XSmallIn the comic strip Peanuts, one recurring gag involves Charlie Brown running to kick a football only to have Lucy pull it away at the last second.  Charlie Brown misses the ball, flies through the air, and lands flat on his back.  No matter how many times he tries, the affable character always comes up short.

Allow me to introduce Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Charlie Brown of the U.S. Senate.  Every time gas prices rise, Cantwell takes a run at the oil industry and accuses its leaders of price gouging.  No matter how many times she lines up to kick these alleged price gougers, she just keeps missing.

Last week, she was at it again.  Cantwell declared,

Americans deserve to know what’s really behind the rapid increase in gas prices burdening families and businesses … Bad actors who are artificially driving up gas prices ought to be brought to justice and face stiff punishment.

Every time gas prices increase, Cantwell instigates the same tired witch-hunt.

  • In 2005, when gas prices increased following Hurricane Katrina, Cantwell claimed that price gougers were responsible. She responded to a question on whether she thought oil companies were price gouging by saying, “Absolutely. I just don’t have the document to prove it.”  No oil industry price gouging was found.  
  • In 2006, Cantwell called for new federal legislation to punish price gouging, saying, “Democrats believe that supply and demand are basic forces that guide our economy. But even those forces demand real transparency to make sure that markets are functioning the way they’re supposed to.”  No oil industry price gouging was found.  
  • On May 9, 2007, Cantwell and some of her liberal colleagues planted themselves at a Capitol Hill Exxon station where they “announced bills to punish ‘price gouging’ and the record profits that oil companies earned.” No oil industry price gouging was found.  
  • In April 2008, Cantwell sent a letter to then-President George W. Bush calling for him to create a special task-force to go after price-gougers because, “the price of oil and gas can no longer be explained or predicted by normal market dynamics or their historic understanding of supply and demand fundamentals.”  No oil industry price gouging was found.  

Are you sensing a pattern?

Cantwell’s antics would be funny if they didn’t waste taxpayer money and government resources.  In response to her persistent badgering, the Federal Trade Commission has launched yet another investigation to determine if there is manipulation in the oil markets.  It’s a fool’s errand.

When gas prices escalated in 2008, I wrote in the Christian Science Monitor,

For years, populist politicians have dragged oil industry executives to Capitol Hill and accused them of price manipulation. Every time gas prices increase, liberal lawmakers direct the Federal Trade Commission to investigate oil industry price gouging. To their chagrin, the FTC has never found oil industry price manipulation.

What evidence does congress use to back their price gouging claims? Try none.

Facts are a stubborn thing, but Cantwell is not the only politician to levy unfounded accusations at the oil industry.   Back in 2008, representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) had one of the most inane exchanges of all time on the House floor.  Staring directly down her nose, the current Democrat party leader told oil company executives,

I can’t say that there’s evidence that you are manipulating the price, but I believe that you probably are.

With those reasoning skills, I assume Wasserman Schultz is on President Obama’s short list for his next Supreme Court appointment.

The only difference with this newest investigation is that the FTC has a new rule allowing it to punish price gougers.  This is akin to Charlie Brown purchasing a new pair of cleats to kick the football harder.  He will still miss the ball, and the FTC likely will too.

Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, responded to this latest investigation by saying,

I look forward to the news conference where the FTC and the elected officials who demanded this investigation will announce that – like every past investigation – this new one has found no wrongdoing by America’s fuel manufacturers.

Don’t expect that will stop Cantwell.  She’s never let the facts get in the way of her opinion before.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.