CEOs from the nation's biggest oil companies sparred with lawmakers Wednesday at a Senate hearing into this year's jump in oil prices and record industry profits.
The contentious hearing comes as consumers face a jump of 50 percent or more in home heating bills this winter and gasoline prices have surged 20 percent this year.
It also came after some Democrats slammed Republicans recently for pushing through more federal subsidies for oil companies rather than trying to help consumers cope with the rise in energy prices. (Full story)
Even before the remarks got started, Democrats and Republicans were at each other over whether energy executives should have to swear to tell the truth before the panel.
Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens rejected calls by some Democrats to have the executives sworn in, saying the law already required them to tell the truth.
Why does it matter?
The industry's third-quarter profits jumped 62 percent to about $25.9 billion as Exxon Mobil, the nation's biggest oil company, posted the largest corporate profit in history in the quarter. Oil company's stocks are up some 40 percent from a year ago, giving big gains to shareholders.
Yet why the industry reaps in gaudy profits by gouging the American public at the pump and in their homes, Congress is trying to find ways to help working Americans pay winter heating costs that are likely to double or triple. The election-year ramifications are so dire, that even Republicans are talking of a "windfall tax" to help pay for heating-bill relief.
Yet while the GOP did the right thing in dragging these oil execs to testify, it's bizarre that they would refuse to swear the execs in. As Cantwell wrote to Stevens:
If the American people are to find this inquiry credible, it is essential that the oil executives testify under oath. Anything less would undermine the integrity of this Congress and these committees.
Unfortunately, the GOP long ago surrendered any efforts to maintain the integrity of the congress it runs. Fortunately, we have elections in less than a year to rectify much of this damange. And energy costs WILL be an issue in 2006.
Update: For the record, senators swore in the baseball players testifying at the steroids hearings, the tobacco execs testifying in the 90s, and Jack Abramoff when he recently testified.