Pelosi, Schumer target oil companies for gas price spikes

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The Democratic leadership in the House and Senate said they will bring legislation to a vote to police big oil companies for price gouging as historically high gas costs continue to dog Democrats' midterm chances.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said they want legislation to address price gouging and market manipulation sometime soon – though the details and dates were not revealed. 

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"We are laser focused on lowering costs at the pump and across the board," Pelosi said Thursday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Aug. 6, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images / Getty Images)

At a Capitol news conference, the Democratic lawmakers acknowledged that high gas prices are driving up inflation and taking a toll on everyday Americans, but they sought to blame oil and gas companies for making money off supply-chain issues driven by the pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

"Big oil companies are using both these issues – price gouging [and] market manipulation – to cash in," Schumer said Thursday.

"Oil companies last year made record profits on these tragedies almost like vultures. We have the Ukraine tragedy. We have the COVID tragedy. Do they try to make things better? No, they come in and make record profits. And what are they doing with those profits? This is what outrages me. Stock buybacks that don't improve a thing."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill Dec. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (AP Newsroom)

The legislation would not suspend the federal government’s 18.4-cent-a-gallon gas tax. Pelosi said the gas tax holiday may be good PR, but there's no guarantee oil companies would pass the savings on to consumers. 

Instead, the lawmakers said they will give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general more power, including civil penalty authority, to go after oil companies and retailers that are gouging their customers in both wholesale and retail sales.

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"It's safe to say that shining a bright light on dark energy markets is a very high priority now," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who is working on the legislation in the Senate. "We need to make sure that there is a policeman on the beat."

It was unclear when the legislation would get a vote, but in the Senate it would require at least 10 Republicans to join with all Democrats to overcome a filibuster in the 50-50 split chamber. 

The national average price for a gallon of gas was $4.141 on April 28, according to AAA. That’s down slightly from the record high for regular unleaded of $4.331 that was set on March 11. 

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Inflation and high gas prices are major concerns for voters heading into the midterm elections in November as Democrats are trying to hold onto very slim majorities in the House and Senate. 

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