Public Spurns GOP Plan for Gas Rebates

A Republican plan that would send $100 rebates to gas consumers has backfired for the Senate majority, as taxpayers accuse politicians of pandering for votes this November. The senators said the proposal was to give relief to drivers hit by a spike in gasoline prices.

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With the price of gas around $3.00 a gallon, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are nervous. They feel they have to do something, or at least make it look like they're doing something. A bidding war on Congressional proposals is now in its second week, and there have already been some casualties.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Maybe he was trying to spread the pain, or maybe he was simply being bipartisan, but President Bush invited members of both parties over to the White House today to discuss soaring gas prices.

GEORGE W: The prices of gasoline should serve as a wakeup call to all of us involved in public office that we have got a energy security problem and a national security problem, and now is the time to deal with it in a forceful way.

WELNA: A short time later the House approved slapping criminal penalties and fines reaching 150 million dollars on energy firms found to be price gouging. House Speaker Dennis Hastert suggested after meeting yesterday with Exxon's new CEO Rex Tillerson that unknown forces are pushing up gas prices.

DENNIS HASTERT: The supply of gasoline and crude are the same as it's been. Anybody can go to the market and buy what they have to do so, it's disconnected from supply and demand. We need to know why that's happening.

WELNA: Today on the Senate floor, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski wasn't buying Hastert's diagnosis.

LISA MURKOWSKI: Congress can pass and repeal laws, but we don't have the ability to repeal the law of supply and demand.

WELNA: Murkowski's prescription for bringing down gas prices? Open up her state's national wildlife refuge to oil drilling. Meanwhile, another Republican proposal floated last week bit the dust this week. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said a $100 rebate for gas consumers is no longer on the table.

BILL FRIST: Not unless somebody wants to propose it, but right now the reception to that is one of those eight items, has not been overwhelming and therefore we're going to move to continue to emphasize the other seven.

WELNA: Mississippi Republican Trent Lott said the consensus was the idea had fallen flat.

TRENT LOTT: The $100 rebate, I mean, I don't know quite what, how that came about or what the merits were of it, but I don't see much prospect that that's going to be considered further at all.

WELNA: Meanwhile Senate Democrats had their own fixes to propose.

Michigan's Debbie Stabenow said the 2.6 billion dollars in tax breaks for oil companies in the energy bill she actually voted for last summer should be rolled back.

DEBBIE STABENOW: Now I believe my colleagues believe, on the Democratic side of the aisle, that we ought to shut down those tax breaks to the oil companies and put money back directly into folk's pockets.

WELNA: Stabenow, in an eight-minute speech, failed to mention the rebates she proposed that week. Fellow Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois then set the record straight.

DICK DURBIN: And what she has said is that instead of this meaningless $100 which has been suggested on the other side of the aisle, which as become something of a joke, she suggested a significant amount, $500.

WELNA: Durbin had his own prescription.

DURBIN: We need to punish the profiteers. We need to say to these oil companies this is intolerable. It's time for the President of the United States to call the oil company executives into the Oval Office to sit down and in very quiet and reasoned tones, tell them enough is enough.

WELNA: How much is enough? South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson said the oil companies know.

TIM JOHNSON: Now to be talking about cutting back the profitability, now big oil deserves to make a profit, but world record profits, I don't think so. Not at a time like this.

WELNA: A time that has lawmakers in full panic mode.

David Welna, NPR News, The Capital.

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