Opinion: Congress plays the blame game on gas prices

March 9, 2022 Atlanta: Competing gas stations along Barrett Parkway at Cobb Place Boulevard in Cobb County were 10 cents apart on their price for regular unleaded gasoline on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. The average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline hit a national record Tuesday according to Channel 2 Action News. On Wednesday, Georgia followed the nationalÕs lead. The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas rose overnight from $4.060 to $4.168. The average price for a gallon of diesel rose from $4.750 to $4.881. Both prices broke the previous records set 14 years ago: $4.164 on Sept. 15, 2008 for unleaded and $4.858 for diesel on July 17, 2008. The state still sits just below the national average of $4.252, although a few counties are right at or above the national average. President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. will ban all Russian oil imports and acknowledged it will bring costs to Americans, particularly at the gas pump. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday that he is working on suspending the stateÕs gas tax. That would save people 29 cents per gallon. Kemp said because of the stateÕs conservative budgeting over the last couple of years, he is Òconfident we will be able to provide relief to hardworking Georgians - both in the form of a tax refund and lower gas taxes.Ó U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has been advocating for a suspension of the federal governmentÕs gas tax. Warnock is co-sponsoring a bill to suspend collections until Jan. 1..(John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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March 9, 2022 Atlanta: Competing gas stations along Barrett Parkway at Cobb Place Boulevard in Cobb County were 10 cents apart on their price for regular unleaded gasoline on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. The average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline hit a national record Tuesday according to Channel 2 Action News. On Wednesday, Georgia followed the nationalÕs lead. The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas rose overnight from $4.060 to $4.168. The average price for a gallon of diesel rose from $4.750 to $4.881. Both prices broke the previous records set 14 years ago: $4.164 on Sept. 15, 2008 for unleaded and $4.858 for diesel on July 17, 2008. The state still sits just below the national average of $4.252, although a few counties are right at or above the national average. President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. will ban all Russian oil imports and acknowledged it will bring costs to Americans, particularly at the gas pump. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday that he is working on suspending the stateÕs gas tax. That would save people 29 cents per gallon. Kemp said because of the stateÕs conservative budgeting over the last couple of years, he is Òconfident we will be able to provide relief to hardworking Georgians - both in the form of a tax refund and lower gas taxes.Ó U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has been advocating for a suspension of the federal governmentÕs gas tax. Warnock is co-sponsoring a bill to suspend collections until Jan. 1..(John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Most of us don’t like it much these days when we pull into the gas station to fill up and see gas prices of over $4 per gallon.

In Congress, it’s been the usual mad political scramble to assess blame, as the fate of the U.S. economy is often a powerful force on Election Day.

Feeling the heat, many Democrats have taken aim at Big Oil.

“It is clear to me that corporate greed is a large part of what is behind these prices at the pump,” said U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, as he questioned at a Senate hearing why gas prices seem to stay high as oil prices have retreated.

“Why the gas price doesn’t follow the oil price down in Georgia is something we really do need to get to the bottom of,” energy research expert Robert McCullough testified, as he joined Warnock in urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

“Some of the increase is due obviously to Putin’s war,” McCullough added. “But other increases are inexplicable at the moment.”

Republicans fault President Biden for the sticker shock at the pump, and efforts by Warnock and other Democrats to blame Russia are like fingernails on a chalkboard.

“I’m tired of Biden using the war in Ukraine as an excuse for inflation in the U.S.,” said U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton.

GOP lawmakers again denounced a plan from Democrats to strip $30 billion a year in tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, arguing that won’t help produce new domestic energy resources.

“Energy independence is a national security issue, and President Biden is calling for a tax increase on American energy producers,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans.

When you peel away the arguments, the fight over high gas prices is just one part of the larger political battle over the U.S. economy in this midterm election year.

Democrats have cards to play, as they can tout strong monthly job gains and economic growth, big increases in tax revenues, smaller deficits, and a very low jobless rate of 3.6 percent in March.

But polls consistently show Americans don’t feel like things are going in the right direction, worried by the highest inflation in 40 years .

“Biden is taking money out of Americans’ wallets,” said U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point.

History shows voters often take out their economic frustrations on the party in power — which this year would be the Democrats.

That’s the blame game Democrats hope to avoid in November.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com