WASHINGTON – As a conservative Republican, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire is not one who would easily call for a new tax.
But Gregg and fellow lawmakers have been getting an earful lately from constituents paying high energy prices while the oil industry posts record profits. So Friday, Gregg called on Congress to consider reinstituting an excess profit tax on oil companies, with some proceeds going to help consumers pay for their higher fuel bills.
With the White House and many of his Republican colleagues cool to any tax increase, Gregg’s idea appears to be a long shot. Still, it was another sign of the growing focus in Congress, even from the oil industry’s usual allies, over the record profits.
Gregg’s proposal came a day after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., called for oil industry executives to travel to Capitol Hill to explain why prices are so high when they are posting record profits. And earlier in the week, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., urged companies to put more of their profits back into building and expanding refineries to increase supplies and reduce pump prices.
Hastert issued a statement Friday saying, “This is America and Republicans don’t believe in punishing success. Oil companies need to do more to inform the American people about what they are doing to bring down the cost of oil and natural gas.”
Another Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, on Friday called on the major oil companies to contribute voluntarily to a fund that would help low-income families pay projected increases in winter heating bills.
Gregg, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, voiced some of the harshest criticism of the oil industry by a congressional Republican, saying he found it “infuriating” that the oil industry was posting record profits “while the public and our national economy are suffering under the huge burden of costs of oil and gas.”
“Clearly, something has to be done to reign in the irresponsibility of Big Oil,” said Gregg.
Gregg called on lawmakers to consider using the proceeds from an excess profit tax to help reduce the federal budget deficit and to boost funding for a federal program that helps low-income families pay utility bills.
Gregg acknowledged it was unusual for him to consider a new tax. “Some might call this a novel approach for me, but I cannot sit back in good conscience while those in our society struggling to heat their homes are being left in the cold by oil companies,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who has led other Democrats in pushing – without GOP support – for a windfall profit tax on oil companies, said he was encouraged by Gregg’s comments.