House Democrats will move next week to pass legislation that would broaden the Federal Trade Commission’s powers and force the independent consumer protection agency to probe whether the oil industry is ripping off Americans at the pump.
The endeavor underscores the increased pressure from voters reeling from record-high gas prices and rank-and-file members who want to show constituents they are taking action.
“Obviously, our people are worried about inflation,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Wednesday. “The American people are being greatly stressed by this inflation.”
Democrats have grown more anxious with leadership about at least trying to blunt prices before the midterms, even if their efforts prove futile against a volatile global energy market. They view an FTC probe into alleged price gouging — which there has been no evidence of — as a “good start” but want it paired with other proposals.
Those include a federal gas tax holiday, direct rebates or a windfall tax that would funnel a portion of oil companies’ record profits back to consumers.
“It’s already $5 [per gallon] in Nevada. We have a number of things that we should be looking at,” said Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, a vulnerable lawmaker who wants to pause the federal 18.4-cents-per-gallon tax.
Mr. Hoyer, speaking with reporters, tried to reassure his caucus that other relief measures have not been sidelined.
“Other options are under consideration. Just so happens that we’re doing this one next week; that does not preclude not doing others,” he said.
The national average price of gasoline continued to reach new all-time highs Wednesday. The price for a regular gallon was $4.40, up 15 cents from one week ago, 29 cents from one month ago and $1.41 from a year ago, according to AAA.
Experts and even some Democrats have acknowledged that a price-gouging investigation would not result in a tangible difference.
But Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, have made it clear that they do not support proposals like a tax holiday. They say it amounts to a public relations stunt that would take money away from major infrastructure projects and could end up in the pockets of middlemen.
Adding to the problem for the Biden administration and Democrats, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday that inflation barreled ahead last month at 8.3%, down slightly from March but still the highest since the early 1980s.
President Biden said in a statement it was “heartening” to see the rate moderate, but “the fact remains that inflation is unacceptably high.” He also pointed the finger at Republicans, who he said lack an economic plan and have contributed to Americans’ financial woes by not cooperating, echoing a speech he made Tuesday.
“Congressional Republicans talk about inflation, but their only plan is to raise taxes on working families, taking even more money out of their pockets,” Mr. Biden said.