June 13, 2008

Why Congress Can Kiss My Gas

By Jasmyne A. Cannick
New America Media

The Democratic initiative to tax big oil profits was just another Washington “dog and pony show” designed to make you and me feel better. Blocked by Senate Republicans, the measure failed to achieve the 60 votes required by Senate rules to proceed. The vote was 51-43.

We’ve seen it before: Democrats put forth a piece of legislation that’s supposed to make us think that they are in Washington fighting for us, and then the evil Republicans swoop in and kill it. Bad Republicans. But let’s be real – bad Democrats do it too.

When it was all said and done, both Democrats and Republicans scattered off to their various fundraisers in chauffeur-driven high-polluting Lincoln Town cars while their constituents were left to decide between food and gas.

“We’re not afraid, on this side, to go after big oil when they are not doing the right thing,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York. “And we are not afraid to go after OPEC because they are a cartel that squeezes us,” he added.

I’m not sure what Sen. Schumer means when he says “us.” To the best of my knowledge, in California, with the exception of Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, I can’t think of one California representative or senator who has demonstrated that they are, in fact, one of us. (Lee gets a nod of approval for taking the food stamp challenge and living on $21 worth of food for one week, the average weekly benefit for a food stam recipient.)

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

America’s political etiquette dictates that elected officials are to be treated more like Hollywood celebrities than public servants, even during times of extreme duress (Read gas priced at $4.93).

So while your average taxpayer sees a 30-second sound byte of a representative “going off” on big oil’s record profits at the expense of their constituents during a hearing on Capitol Hill, keep in mind that it’s mainly for show.

For example, an amendment to last year’s energy bill required House members who leased vehicles through their taxpayer office budgets to drive cars that emit low levels of greenhouse gases.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think that includes Lincoln Town cars, Lexus, Cadillacs, and Ford Expeditions.

I guess what’s good for the gander isn’t necessarily good for the goose.

While Congress has mandated more fuel-efficient vehicles for “us,” the public, (a public that quite frankly can’t afford to fill their tanks, much less buy a new car), when it comes to their taxpayer-funded vehicle, nothing but the best will do.

According to an article published last month in the Los Angeles Times, 21 of California’s 53 House members lease vehicles.

The lease requirement passed narrowly last August after a brief debate, with most Democrats supporting it, and most Republicans opposing it. (Richardson was not in Congress for the vote on the amendment but supported the energy bill in December.)

In the article, Reps. Diane Watson, D-Los Angeles, grew testy when asked recently about her taxpayer-funded vehicle.

“You guys ask me such idiotic questions,” Watson snapped. Her spokeswoman, Dorinda White, explained that Watson chose the Lincoln because she is “over 6 feet tall in shoes” and spends a lot of time driving around her district.

But the double talk and fake sympathy doesn’t come from just the Democrats.

In the same article, some Republicans lashed out at Democrats, accusing the House leadership of hypocrisy. “I will start driving a green car once Pelosi starts ballooning back and forth from coast to coast to save jet fuel,” said Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who has made climate change a top priority.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the speaker’s Chevy Suburban was selected by the Sergeant at Arms who oversees her security. But Hammill noted that Pelosi has asked that her next vehicle be a hybrid.

I find it very hard to believe some of the rhetoric coming out of Washington from people who not only ride around in taxpayer-funded, chauffeured luxury vehicles – they defend it.

But short of getting caught toe-tapping in the men’s room, there is very little that will move voters to hold their representatives accountable.

When it comes to the issue of the today’s gas prices, who’s fighting for “us” and who’s fighting against “us,” the Democrats and the Republicans are hard to tell apart.

At the end of the day, America’s drivers are on their own on this one.

At 30, Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com or www.myspace.com/jasmynecannick.

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