18 June 2008

Congressional Techniques: OPEC and the WTO, Nationalization

If at first a politically driven legal method does not succeed (right away), try, try again. That’s what eleven senators – ten Democrats and one independent (I wonder who that was…) – have on slate at the moment. From the AP:

"The refusal of OPEC nations who are members of the WTO to play by these rules is inexcusable, and they must be held accountable," said the senators in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

The group, led by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said the White House should direct Schwab to file a complaint with the WTO against the oil producers.

Gretchen Hamel, spokeswoman for the Office of U.S. Trade Representative, said "We have considered this before and remain of the view that under WTO rules filing a (complaint) case cannot be an effective course of action."

In other words, that’s already been thought of – quietly – by the Representative’s office and rejected. I would think that the eleven senators or their staffs might have attempted some communication with the Trade Rep’s office before this “announcement.” Because there apparently was none, I can only assume that this ploy was more a political maneuver than a serious attempt to address the country’s energy issues.

OPEC is only a problem when there is a perceived oil crisis. There is, of course, collusion on the part of OPEC members; it has probably been going on since OPEC’s inception way back in 1960. The cartel was formed to help stabilize oil prices for the benefit of member nations. Surely these eleven senators – ten Democrats and one independent – realize this…surely they knew this before launching their WTO effort.

To take this one step further, what would these eleven senators suppose world opinion would be if the U.S. took oil-producing nations to task for unfair trading practices? By their own party doctrine, shouldn’t they consider the international reaction to the U.S. making such a unilateral power-play?

In a related note, during a press conference regarding President Bush’s request that Congress lift domestic drilling bans, Democrat House Representative Maurice Hinchey said (source, Fox News): “We (the government) should own the refineries. Then we can control how much gets out into the market.”

There are three obvious criticisms here. First, the U.S. practices capitalism; for a taste of “well-run, state owned refineries”, see Venezuela and Iran. Second, the same body that refuses to change regulations concerning domestic drilling should never be trusted to run all (or for that matter, any) domestic refineries. Last, surely the government has enough on its plate to deal with – standard “governing” things like defense, immigration, reforming already existing bureaucratic monstrosities. There is no need, time, or space for our government to pick up another piece to juggle…poorly.

So, ten Democrat Senators want to take OPEC to the WTO for price collusion, and one Democrat Representative wants to nationalize gas refineries so that domestic supplies can be completely government regulated. Perhaps these folks could get together and figure out their party stance on collusion, inter- and intra-national. Why would we, the people, desire complete government control over domestic gas supplies while at the same time remove foreign governments’ collective control over their own natural resources? The double-think required by Senate Democrats is astounding.

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