Having followed the national news this past week and focusing on statements and proposals coming from our senators and representatives, I do believe I’ve hit upon a solution to all our problems. Yes, it’s drastic and it’ll be hard to swallow for some, but I think it’s a brilliant idea. First, I need to give you a frame of reference.

Referring to the high gas prices, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., declared the need for a congressional investigation into oil industry price gouging. Never mind more than 30 such investigations have been conducted in the past with no evidence anybody in the industry is involved in gouging. What stupidity! Then on the same issue, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., made a similar proposal early this week. Not to be left out, the president joined the pack on Tuesday. It seems as if a whole slug of politicians are once again “stuck on stupid.”

If that idea doesn’t gain traction, the alternative seems to be to attack the oil companies for exorbitant profit taking. The fact that ExxonMobil reported a profit in excess of $8 billion during the first quarter has other politicians and, I might add, John Q Public in a tailspin.

Yes, that amount of profit is the greatest in history for a single company, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The fact that oil industry profit margins were exceeded by several industrial groups seems not to matter. After all, we’re not looking at the Financial Services sector as a villain.

Another wild-eyed proposal is an excess profit tax in which case the government would become the gougers. Such a move would put a damper on profit incentives and just might be passed along to consumers through an increase in the cost of product. An excess profit tax is not a new idea, but our experience with it has taught few lessons. EPTs were established by Congress during the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War for example.

In some cases, taxes were levied against profits, over an established level, as high as 90 percent. This often meant that companies had insufficient profit margins to allow them to repair and replace equipment that was wearing out. One only need look at the burgeoning steel industries of Japan and Germany after the war to see how they cleaned our clock with their new-technology replacement mills that were in competition with our own antiquated industry.

Another screwball proposal that just bubbled to the surface is the government might give consumers $100 to compensate for higher gas prices. This is a wonderful proposal for the beer industry that would likely reap the benefit from higher sales for at least a month or two.

Come on folks, let’s get real. A recent financial report published by ConnocoPhillips shows third quarter 2005 earnings from its U.S. refining and marketing operations amounted to 9 cents per gallon. I am quick to point out the total federal, state and local taxes on that same gallon of gas amounted to about 42 cents per gallon across the nation. So who is the gouger? 

The industry is still prevented from drilling in ANWAR and along the coasts regardless of the fact Cuba has given permission to the Chinese and Canadians to do so in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve been put in a position of having our own resource base restricted while everyone complains about the price of gas. A viewer of the John Gibson Show on Fox News sent an e-mail this week that asked why we were complaining about $3 per gallon gas when he was paying $7 per gallon in Turkey. That’s a good question. Our politicians and special interest groups have had a role in this fiasco, and they find all sorts of reasons not to admit it.

I could go on about other foibles on the part of our politicians. Just consider some of the wasteful actions surrounding the Katrina clean-up, or Congress’ continuing inability to unravel the immigration difficulties we face, even though they’ve had years to do the job. Remember the hullabaloo over “selling our ports” to foreign companies?

Well, finally, on to my great idea. We should require all senators and congressmen go through a probationary period after they’re elected and before they’re fully ensconced in office. At the end of their first six months on the job we should take a confidence vote on their performance. If they flunk, they should be immediately relieved of all duties and powers of office. If they pass the referendum, they get six more months on probation before the final up or down vote is taken. If they pass muster the second time they can stay. If not, it’s back to the farm.

There are so many turncoats in Washington today it’s hard to know who the good guys are. We ought to have a way to sort them out before they ruin the country. Just think about it. Power to the people!

(Dick Tunison may be reached via e-mail at rtunison@cox.net.)


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