Wednesday, November 09, 2005
The hearing is an indication that big oil companies, which have received billions of dollars in tax breaks from Congress, are facing an increasingly hostile audience in Washington. Even some Republican lawmakers, whose party has long been sympathetic to the requests of the industry, are considering a windfall-profit tax for oil companies. Concerns mounted after oil companies recently reported record quarterly profits, including Exxon Mobil's $9.92 billion, up 75 percent from the third quarter last year.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) told the executives this morning, "The oil companies owe the country an explanation."
"I would hope that it's simply theater to demonstrate their concern about things that a lot of Americans are concerned about and that after the cameras go away, they get back to business," Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies for the Cato Institute, said earlier. Cato opposes new taxes on the oil companies. "On the other hand, it may well be an attempt to set the stage for real legislation," Taylor added.
At today's joint hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, being held at the request of Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Republicans intend to show that they can be tough with oil companies.
Democrats tried to show they could be tougher. They demanded that the executives from Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. be sworn in. That occurred when Congress held a hearing with oil executives in 1974 to explore energy shortages and high prices, resulting in front-page images of the officials with their right hands in the air. But Republicans refused to support that effort and the testimony went forward without taking any oaths.