The Politics of Positioning on Energy

By July 21, 2008Economy, Energy, General

The Senate will get to the cloture vote Tuesday morning on S. 3268, the Stop Excessive Energy Speculation Act, with the big question being whether Democratic leadership will allow votes on amendments to open additional U.S. areas to domestic energy development. According to this story in The Hill, leadership’s position is, vote for the anti-speculation bill and we might let other votes take place. Maybe.

To those who assess (correctly) the cause of rising energy prices as being substantially  one of supply and demand, the populist bashing of unidentified speculators is clearly political cover, difficult to take all that seriously. And so the temptation might be to say, OK, we’ll give you your populist gesture, you give us the substance of supply.

Except take a look at CRS summary of the speculation bill. It appears to be much more than just a gesture. The legislation dramatically expands the authority of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, expands government control of a major sector of the economy. It practically screams UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES. And yet the bill was only introduced last Thursday, and there have been no committee hearings on it. If the problem is so obvious, then why hadn’t hadn’t we seen legislation earlier? (To be sure, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois has been talking about the issue for more than a week.)

In contrast, legislation that would increase domestic energy supply — via ANWR, OCS, etc. — has been around for years, decades, even. The arguments pro and con are well understood, the legislation already hashed out.

Just because legislation is designed for political purposes doesn’t mean it can’t do damage. Given the public’s growing sentiment for additional supply, is it too much to ask that Congress just vote on additional supply?

More on the debate from the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal:

Leave a Reply