Saturday I was wandering out to the west side of town for some seafood takeout, when I spotted, not one but two gas stations, facing each other across a busy intersection, selling 87-octane unleaded for $2.499 a gallon, the lowest price I'd seen in these parts all spring but not what I'm inclined to think of as cheap, even though I'd filled up the day before for twenty cents more and thought I'd done well for myself.

This is an election year, and the politicians sense that the electorate might want to take out its frustration on them. Inevitably, therefore, they have proposed half-assed (maybe even quarter-assed) solutions to the problem, none of which will actually solve the problem, but which meet the most important requirement of any government solution: Appearing to Do Something.

The Democrats' proposal would have waived the federal 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax (six cents more for diesel) for a period of 60 days; the approximate $6 billion in revenue would be made up by cutting tax breaks to oil companies. This might have carried more weight had it not been introduced by Senator Bob Menendez, who comes from a state (New Jersey) which mandates gas-station attendants.

But if the Democrats' proposal was merely ill-conceived, the Republican plan was utterly laughable. Concocted by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the GOP plan would simply cut a $100 check to most taxpaying households as a "rebate." Not even Senate Republicans would get behind the scheme: John Cornyn of Texas dismissed it as "a theatrical response," and he was being generous.

What I want from the Feds right now is basically what I wanted from them six years ago: nothing. From Vent #201:

The last time the government actually did something about it, in the Seventies, we got gas stations open less often than a downtown bank, gas lines running down the block and into the next one, and all manner of political posturing.

If the Feds can be kept at bay long enough, the price situation, as it always does, will take care of itself. Demand will slacken after summer; OPEC members, acting independently of the cartel, will increase production beyond their quotas in an effort to fatten their treasuries. In the meantime, though we shudder at the thought, we always have the option of using less gas.

I hate to look like I'm holding myself up as some sort of role model here, but I take a 5,000-mile road trip every summer and still manage to drive far less than the state average of 13,181 miles a year. I've long since learned how to combine my errands into a single trip, and my modest mid-sized sedan returns a consistent 23-24 mpg (above government estimates) in town. Three bucks a gallon simply doesn't bother me that much.

Of course, should it get to four, I may actually have to complain. A little.

The Vent

  8 May 2006

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 Copyright © 2006 by Charles G. Hill