Congressional Republicans, and especially conservatives, came under attack today for not speaking up for the free-market economy and insisting government keep its hands off the rising cost of gasoline.
Not a single politician in Washington has taken a stand in the defense of capitalism, said Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute during a panel discussion held this morning at the National Press Club.
Taylor, along with two other panelists and the discussion moderator, took a shot at Rep. Jack Kingston (R.-Ga.) following remarks he made to the panel promoting his Fuel Choices for American Security Act, a bill currently sitting before a House committee.
Asked his opinion on the legislation, Taylor dismissed it as "beyond hair-brained" and said it was something he wouldn't have been surprised to see House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) support.
"What is this? Sounds like the Democrats," he said.
Taylor said he couldn't believe someone in the conservative movement had taken a position that government should mandate the production of fuel-flex cars or stick its fingers into the energy market.
Unfortunately for Kingston, he was already on his way back to Capitol Hill by the time the attacks were made. But to the credit of panel members, they said they would have said the same thing to his face.
The idea that government would mandate that automakers produce certain kinds of cars or otherwise mess with the capitalistic process sounds like something the Democrats would do, Taylor said.
Panelist Bob Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, pointed out that in an election year, Congress is catering to constituents at the risk of trampling a strong economy in the process. He cited Rep. Heather Wilson's (R.-N.M.) recent attack on oil companies for "price gouging" as an example.
Last week the House passed Wilson's bill (H.R. 5253) said "to prohibit price gouging in the sale of gasoline, diesel fuel, crude oil, and home heating oil, and for other purposes." But ironically, Slaughter said neither Wilson, nor her co-sponsors, could define what price gouging actually was. Instead, lawmakers left it to the Federal Trade Commission to do that.
By leaving the details to the FTC, Wilson and others were able to escape any blame if something goes wrong but at the same time credit themselves before their constituents, he said.
Taylor described the move as "the perfect congressional dodge."
Republican members of Congress should being saying "leave prices alone," he said. Besides that, it's not Congress' job to enter the free-market economy. Former President Ronald Reagan understood and vocalized that concept, but not a single Republican in Washington will say that today.
Dan Gainor, director of the Business and Media Institute, said the biggest problem is with mainstream reporters, who continue to misrepresent high fuel costs as "record-breaking" when in reality they haven't yet hit a record high when adjusted for inflation and per-capita income.
And in an election year, he concluded, when constituents get excited, lawmakers feel compelled to take action - even if that means endangering America's economy.