By MARTIN SCHRAM
SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
Today's lesson on How Washington Really Works, But Too Often Doesn't focuses upon an outrage that affects every American -- yet is being ignored as if by a vast Federal City conspiracy.
It is an outrage that surfaced July 29, in the form of major news: Exxon Mobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, announced a huge 32 percent boost in second-quarter profits, the third-largest increase in company history. The Big Oil bonanza came at a time when Americans are paying record-high prices at the gas pumps.
Washington's official reaction (in your behalf) to that stunning and maddening news has been softer than silence. But before you search the skies for black helicopters, conspiracy theorists, do not rule out the possibility that sheer incompetence is also afoot. Blame here must be divided among the See-No-Evil Policymakers of this oil-friendly administration (look-the-other-wayers who may be ideologically and conspiratorially motivated), the Snooze-and-Lose Democratic Minority-d'Perpetuity and Myopic Watchdogs who often function as Washington's de facto agenda-setters.
The news from Exxon Mobil established that the pattern was industry-wide. Royal Dutch Shell, the world's third-largest oil company, reported second-quarter profits up 34 percent. BP's (British Petroleum) were up 29 percent. ConocoPhillips, America's third-largest, reported profits that skyrocketed by 51 percent!
But this front-page-worthy news wound up buried by the news media. The Washington Post buried it four sections back, on page D2, under the headline: "Profit Soars at Exxon Mobil." The report from Bloomberg News didn't really link the fiscal ecstasy of Exxon, et al., with the fiscal misery of ordinary Americans who fill up at the pump. Over at The New York Times, editors not only buried the story at the bottom of page C6, but slapped on a headline ("Two Oil Companies Report Higher Earnings") so soporific it probably lulled even the hyper-caffeinated strategist James Carville to sleep.
What is more bizarre is that all of this news happened while Congress was enacting an energy bill that contains barrels of boondoggles -- but which a wide range of experts agrees will do next to nothing to solve America's energy crisis. Not short term. Not long term.
Here's why Washington's only reaction was unrequited nothingness: Absent a Page One prodding from the agenda-setters, the reporters who cover the White House didn't press the press secretary to explain what President Bush thought should be done.
That could have been offset by a savvy, quick, responsible reaction in behalf of the people by the Opposition Party that always considered itself the party of the people. But no -- today's Democratic Party leaders have lost their way. Washington Democrats either didn't spot the Exxon-profits news or didn't perceive that people might see it as wrong that they are paying soaring prices at the pump while Exxon Mobil pockets soaring profits. Mainly, the Democratic opposition didn't see a need to spotlight the problem in order to create the compelling coalition that can forge a realistic solution.
Solutions: The only solution that can happen must be based not on politics or grandstanding, but on conservation. And that can only be done by making it clear that a conservation-based approach must be done as a crucial step to our national security in an age of global terrorism.
Jay Hakes, head of the Energy Information Administration under President Bill Clinton, warns: "We need to find a way so that we don't have a perpetual seller's market (setting oil prices). Especially one that transfers profits to an unstable part of the world."
And Fadel Gheit, a widely respected oil-industry analyst with Oppenheimer & amp; Company, cautions: "An energy policy that does not start with conservation is doomed to fail." Asked what he'd like to see a U.S. president do if he could just wave a magic wand and make it happen, the New York-based analyst said: "Energy independence must start with a bipartisan approach in Washington. The president and Congress ... must set a 20-year goal of cutting in half the oil imports that are now at 12 million barrels a day. They must adopt a firm year-by-year schedule and cut 1 million barrels in imports each year -- if Washington really is going to make it work."
Can Washington ever make it work? The oil analyst paused, then answered: "I'm glad I'm not in Washington."
X Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.