With consumers feeling the pinch of rising gasoline prices, 48 Senate Democrats sent a letter to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday, calling on Republicans to abandon a proposal that would slash funding at a federal watchdog agency whose job it is to guard against oil market speculators.
The House Republicans’ spending bill, H.R. 1, would reduce funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) by one-third, forcing layoffs to the watchdog agency that polices market manipulation that drives up oil prices.
The price of gasoline has risen sharply across the nation in recent weeks.
Experts say that with demand fairly stable and supply at an all-time high, speculation is a factor driving up gas prices, Senate Democrats say.
One expert, cited by Democrats, says speculation may add as much as $1.50 a gallon to the price consumers pay at the pump for gasoline.
“At a time when gas prices are rising and squeezing American families, we have a responsibility to provide our watchdogs the resources they need to fulfill their important oversight and regulatory responsibilities,” the Democrats write in their letter. “We stand ready to work with you to come to a responsible budget compromise that will not do anything to make our gas price problem worse, or undermine the progress we are making in developing the clean energy technologies we need so we can better compete with countries like China.”
The Republican spending bill, which was defeated by the Senate, would also cut billions from development of alternative fuels and clean energy technology, which would set back efforts to stay competitive with growing nations such as China while simultaneously putting America’s independence from foreign oil even further out of reach, Democrats charge. During this period of unrest in the Middle East, freeing the United States from its reliance on foreign oil is more important now than ever before, they say.
“This is a bad idea that has to go,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) says. “At a time of skyrocketing gas prices, cutting support for the very agency charged with protecting consumers from excessive oil speculation on Wall Street is a recipe for higher prices at the pump and less economic security. There are responsible cuts, and then there are cuts like this one, which target consumers at a time when they can least afford it.”
The senators say they urge McConnell and Boehner to work with Democrats to negotiate a responsible budget that makes smart cuts that don’t undermine the U.S. transition to a safe, clean and affordable energy future.
Republicans already have pointed their fingers at President Obama and congressional Democrats for high fuel prices.
Several House Democrats have been pushing the president to release oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to increase supply and calm fuel prices. Past presidents, including Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush, have done so.
Obama has said he is looking at that option, but has made no commitment.
Scott Nance is the publisher of the news site The Washington Current, formerly known as On The Hill. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.