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Our view: More pain at the pump

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It’s called a “zombie lie.”

That’s the pop-culture term for a false claim that just won’t die no matter how often it’s refuted by facts.

Prominent among them right now is the notion that the president of the United States, no matter who he or she is, is responsible for the price of gasoline at the pump, no matter what that price is.

Its target at the moment is, of course, Joe Biden.

The claim has been rebutted by a number of prominent, highly-regarded fact-checkers who remind us of past fluctuations — and the all-surpassing influence of those Econ 101 staples: supply and demand.

Right now, as COVID precautions loosen and we travel more freely, there’s more demand than supply, so the price goes up. It’s part of living in a free-market economy.

This zombie lie is fed by another: that Biden’s cancelation of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline has somehow influenced gas prices. Just consider: The lack of a pipeline didn’t inflate the price of gas when Biden’s predecessor was in office — why would it now?

We don’t want to diminish the pain Americans are feeling at the pump, especially lower-income workers whose jobs require them to drive. Not everyone has a fuel-efficient vehicle or an EV (electric vehicle). Until we make a dramatic shift away from our oil addiction, we’ll be at the mercy of unpredictable market forces, no matter where the rigs are drilling.

Not that the people profiting from this situation are especially sympathetic. Why would they be?

The oil conglomerates that operate in the U.S. — ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell — all reported record-breaking profits before Russia invaded Ukraine — some $205 billion in 2021 alone, according to a recent report from Accountable.US.

On top of that, these companies have a real sweetheart deal, the envy of any business operation: They each receive massive, multi-million-dollar subsidies from the federal government.

That means that, despite their eye-popping profits, to which each of us contributes every time we fill up, they’re receiving taxpayer money, too.

Talk about freeloaders.

On Monday morning, any oil corporate head could decree that the price of their product will immediately be reduced by a dollar a gallon. It would be a patriotic display of concern for the American people in a time of hardship. They would still make obscene profits.

But that’s not very likely.

Knowing this, some, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are advocating for a windfall profits tax on these companies. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he’s going to haul oil executives in to testify before Congress.

Oh, no, not a good talking-to.

But there is something that Congress could do. It could halt the subsidies. Even temporarily, just until we get through this crisis. This is American taxpayer money going to wealthy corporations so they can charge us higher prices for their goods. Cut them off.

On Monday morning, any senator or representative could file a bill calling for the halt of oil company subsidies until this crisis has passed — or until oil companies lower the price of their product.

That’s not very likely to happen either, of course; legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, have become very cozy with oil companies thanks to generous political donations. That’s a supply they’d hesitate to put at risk.

This will be the situation as long as the United States remains addicted to oil.

As for the economy as a whole, it’s not where we’d like it to be. But it’s better than it was.

A record 6.4 million jobs were added to the U.S. economy in 2021, rebounding strongly from the previous year’s unprecedented losses, Bloomberg reported in January. Furthermore, the unemployment rate fell to 3.9% in December, according to Labor Department data. It continues to drop by hundreds of thousands of workers every week.

And we can buy toilet paper now.

Republicans aren’t likely to acknowledge the progress. They can hardly criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin without mentioning their dissatisfaction with Biden at the same time. It seems almost ... coordinated.

There are legitimate reasons to criticize Biden and his administration. But it’s hard to consider them through the fog of bad-faith complaints over everything Biden does — even when he does what they want, like cutting off Russian oil, after which they blamed him for the resulting higher prices.

Credible legislators owe it to their constituents to put politics aside from time to time and work with the other side. That should include when we’re trying to avoid engaging in World War III with a geopolitical adversary.

Solutions to high gas prices exist. As in so many matters today, the political will doesn’t. Nevertheless, the next time you fill up the tank, don’t bother saying, “Thanks, Joe.” Instead, say, “Here you go, oil exec — my contribution to your new yacht.”

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