Getting Big Oil to Feel Our Pain

Again, the oily executives of black gold told Congress it gouges Americans to the least extent possible. Again, senators and representatives wagged their fingers at them. Representative Maxine Waters of California told the executives to "share the pain." Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida told them, "I'm a mom of three young children who filled up her minivan the other day for $68 . . . Maybe that's not real money to the five people sitting here because $68 is like a nickel to you."

And again, the real story was, despite all that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holding a press conference to say "despite a strong case for rescinding taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil, we will have to do that another day . . . because of the opposition of the Republicans in the Senate. So we will do that another day."Later in the press conference, Pelosi said, "We will keep making this fight."

Who will make the fight?

Last year, ExxonMobil made $40.6 billion. In the first quarter of this year, ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP America, the five companies that had officials appear before House and Senate committees to cry relative poverty, together made $36 billion in profits. Exxon senior vice president J. Stephen Simon said he made $12.5 million last year. John Lowe, executive vice president of ConocoPhillips, forgot how much he made, saying, "I know it's on page 36 of the proxy."

Who is going to be the people's proxy to tell ExxonMobil and the other companies to stop gouging us? You cannot tell by the money. The oil and gas lobby has showered $639 million on Capitol Hill over the last decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the current election cycle, the industry is in the top 10 of industries that have already swamped politicians with over $20 million of lobbying efforts each.

In political contributions, the oil companies still lean heavily Republican, obviously in hopes of blocking Democrat-inspired proposals to help consumers. ExxonMobil and Chevron rank second and third, respectively, among oil and gas companies and have so far made $1 million in 2008-cycle contributions, three-quarters of it going to the Republicans.

But make no mistake, they are diversifying their portfolio. Of the top 10 recipients, number five and number six are Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Republican John McCain is number two at $485,526, but his money is easily surpassed by the combined contributions of $628,419 for Clinton and Obama.

At the Senate hearing with Big Oil, Dick Durbin of Illinois asked them, "We're about to fall into a recession. Does it trouble any of you when you see what you're doing to us?"

The most could-care-less response was from BP America chairman Robert Malone, who said, "Every week I receive letters from consumers about the impact that high energy prices are having on their everyday lives. Unfortunately, I cannot, and we cannot, change the world market on which this nation now relies on."

This, by the way, is from one of the few members of Big Oil to give more than 40 percent of its contributions to the Democrats and boast about its wind farms (while drilling in Alaska). If you cannot get anything more from BP than, "Sorry guys, our billions of dollars of profits are held hostage by the world market," then you know what superpredator Exxon thinks. In fact, Peter Robertson, vice chairman of Chevron, blatantly told the Senate panel, "I feel very proud of what we do."

Who will wipe the smirk off their faces? We already can guess it will not be a McCain White House. But can you really be certain about an Obama White House, even if the Democrats pick up more seats in Congress? Exxon's Simon patronized the senators by saying Big Oil's huge profits "must be viewed in the context of the massive scale of our industry."

The nation awaits a leader to say, "Sorry Big Oil, you have tipped the scales."

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at

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