House Dems pass gas price-gouging bill that faces uphill battle in the Senate
Four Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the measure.
The House's Democratic majority overcame some internal opposition to pass legislation on Thursday addressing high gas prices by cracking down on possible price gouging from oil companies.
The bill was approved along party lines in a vote of 217-207. Four Democrats -- Texas' Lizzie Fletcher, Jared Golden of Maine, Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Kathleen Rice of New York -- joined all Republicans in the chamber in voting against the legislation.
The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, introduced by Reps. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., and Katie Porter, D-Calif., would give the president the authority to issue an energy emergency proclamation that would make it unlawful for companies to increase fuel prices to "unconscionably excessive" levels.
It would also expand the powers of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate alleged price gouging in the industry and would direct any penalties toward funding weatherization and low-income energy assistance.
"The problem is Big Oil is keeping supply artificially low so prices and profits stay high. Now I think that when the market is broken, that's when Congress has to step in to protect American consumers," Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a hearing on Monday. "And that's what this bill does: It empowers the FTC to go after the gougers and empowers the agency to effectively monitor and report on market manipulation."
Oil executives previously testified before Congress to address concerns about their prices but insisted it was the result of larger forces, including supply and demand.
The price gouging legislation faced stiff opposition from Republicans, who blame the Biden administration's policies, including spending and pandemic-relief stimulus, for inflation. Republicans also renewed calls for more domestic energy production.
"If anybody is going to be sued for gouging, it should be the Gouger-in-Chief Joe Biden who has created this problem," House GOP Whip Steve Scalise said on the House floor on Thursday. "Stop relying on foreign countries for our energy when we can make it here cleaner, better than anyone in the world and lower gas prices and address this problem. This bill doesn't do it. We got to bring up the bills that actually fix the problem."
Rep. Murphy broke with her party to join conservatives in voting against the measure, expressing concerns it didn't address the root of the price increases.
"I think vilifying one sector doesn't actually address the inflation issues that my constituents are facing," Murphy told ABC News. "The possible net effect of this bill will be to actually strangle production at a time when we are desperate for additional production."
The internal revolt came as Democrats are hoping to alleviate pain at the pump for consumers ahead of a consequential midterm election season.
"If you don't support legislation to stop price gouging, you are for price gouging," Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members during a whip meeting on Wednesday.
Though the legislation passed in the House, it faces a tough climb in the Senate. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., promised to bring the bill to the floor -- though it has no pathway to passage without GOP support.
Lawmakers had discussed introducing other legislation to lower gas prices such as measures codifying a federal gas tax holiday. That proposal didn't gain traction among Democratic leaders, like Pelosi, who argued consumers wouldn't benefit.
"I think we need to start with something like this bill and see what we can do," Rep. Porter told ABC News. "I think it is better to invest in those [gas tax holidays] through something like the infrastructure bill, which I supported."