In what is now typical fashion, Congress has spurned any meaningful debate over oil prices and instead decided to lob verbal grenades from partisan fox holes.
Democrats want to release oil from the nation's strategic reserve. Republicans oppose that plan and instead want to ratify President Bush's executive decision to lift the ban on offshore drilling within 200 miles of the nation's coasts. Democrats oppose that.
Both sides are taking positions that recognize a greater supply of oil would reduce gasoline prices at the pump. But they are digging in their heels in an either/or fight over two methods to accomplish that. The result is that neither idea is likely to be debated at all. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it clear she will not allow a debate on off-shore drilling, and House Republicans have defeated a Democratic initiative to severely limit oil speculators.
Whenever debate is restricted, you can be sure there is fear that arguments will expose the intellectual poverty of a position. In this case, both sides have a lot to lose by exposing their own immature tantrums to reason.
Given that both offshore drilling and a release of strategic reserves would increase the global supply of oil, it's reasonable to assume both measures would force downward pressures on prices at the pump. Both seem like good ideas, but offshore drilling seems especially smart considering some experts believe 85 percent of the nation's untapped reserves exist within 200 miles of shore.
Democrats are quick to note it would take many years for oil companies to begin producing from new offshore wells, but their position crumbles in light of their own overwrought concerns about oil speculators. Those speculators are betting on the future price of oil. Democrats are correct when they argue that speculators have helped oil prices rise dramatically, preying on fears that new demand for oil in China and elsewhere would put a strain on global supplies. They do not have the luxury, however, of ignoring the opposite side of that argument that a decision today to drill offshore would lead futures speculators to bet that prices soon will go down.
That, combined with the near certainty that Saudi Arabia and other major producers would increase supplies in order to undercut the competition, would lead to an immediate reduction in prices.
None of this removes the overriding need for an energy policy that promotes viable and affordable alternatives to oil-based transportation. But the ridiculous posturing by men and women who put politics above solutions ought to enrage Americans who struggle daily against inflation in a variety of goods and services tied to the price of oil.