House Democrats narrowly approved a bill Thursday that would require a federal investigation into accusations that the oil industry is bilking drivers, marking the first piece of legislation that Democrats on Capitol Hill have approved, in an effort to address sky-high prices at the pump.
The measure, which would force the Federal Trade Commission to probe whether oil corporations are manipulating the market and should be penalized, was narrowly passed by 217-207.
Four Democrats defected to vote against the legislation. They were a mixture of moderates in competitive races and representatives of energy-rich states. The quartet was Reps. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Kathleen Rice of New York and Jared Golden of Maine.
House Democrats could have only afforded six of its members siding with Republicans to oppose it.
Despite their razor-thin majority and the four Democratic opponents to the bill, leadership was successful in winning over enough of the party’s holdouts to get it across the finish line. But the difficulties convincing several within its caucus underscored the precarious spot many in the Democratic Party are in as the midterm elections draw near and inflation runs rampant.
Gas prices have reached new daily records for more than a week, with the national average topping $4.59 per gallon Thursday, according to AAA.
The White House revealed this week that it will ease some economic sanctions on Venezuela to promote negotiations with Chevron to import oil from the South American country, adding fuel to Republicans’ criticisms that the Biden administration is running to authoritarian regimes rather than its own domestic producers.
The bill now heads to the split Senate, where Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, has promised a vote despite its doomed fate due to a lack of GOP support to reach the required 60-vote threshold.
Chief among their concerns were that the bill would have no impact on fuel costs, the vagueness of what constitutes “price gouging” and unintended economic consequences of implementing price controls.
In the run-up to the vote, it was unclear whether top Democrats could sway enough of their rank-and-file. Leaders marketed the legislation to skeptical members by arguing that something is better than nothing.
“The fact that it might take a little while to implement is not a reason not to do it when they are exploiting the market in the manner in which they are,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “We will do this and other things to help the price at the pump… This is for the ongoing: stop price gouging of the American people.”
Republicans have said the legislation is akin to socialism. Adding to the pressure on skeptical House Democrats, outside groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce indicated they will include the vote on their annual “How They Voted” scorecard to portray those who supported it as anti-business or anti-energy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was hypocritical to go after energy companies only when supply is short and prices are high. The Kentucky Republican noted the bill would be dead on arrival in the upper chamber.
“I understand the House is wasting its time pretending that inflation is all the fault of evil corporate profiteers,” he said. “I guess the profit motive hadn’t been invented yet in 2019 when Republicans had unemployment low and inflation low at the very same time.”