Sunday, August 07, 2005

DeLay's Dirty Trick

The Nation
DeLay's Dirty Trick
Ari Berman

Much of the dirty business of Congress is done outside of public debate, during conference negotiations between the House and Senate Republican leadership, after legislation has passed. Eleventh-hour language added to appease the Christian right, repay big business or bring controversial pork-barrel projects back home has become a regular practice for Republicans.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay took this shady scheming to a new low last week, when he "mysteriously inserted" a $1.5 billion sweetheart deal for Houston oil companies into a massive energy bill that supposedly had been finalized. The provision, according to the sharp eye of Rep. Henry Waxman, stipulates that 75 percent of the $1.5 billion allocated for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico must go toward "a corporation that is constructed as a consortium."

The leading contender for the contract just happens to be the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America consortium, based in DeLay's Sugar Land, Texas, district. Its members include war profiteer Halliburton and Marathon Oil, under SEC investigation for bribing the president of Equatorial Guinea for oil rights. Governor Rick Perry created the consortium in March 2004, promising 1,500 jobs. "None had been created as of last December," AP reports.

The provision was apparently added at 4 am last Tuesday, after House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton, a favored son of big oil, halted all amendments and wrapped up the House and Senate conference. Amazingly, the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate energy committees knew of DeLay's plans, and did nothing to oppose them. The dispute only emerged after Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey learned of the provision, and its intended beneficiaries in DeLay's district.

The lavish giveaway comes at time when the oil and gas industry is amassing record profits, with the net income of top oil companies expected to total $230 billion this year. Yet the overall energy bill passed by Congress on Friday gives billions more in tax breaks for oil, gas and nuclear companies while doing nothing to ease soaring gas prices, raise fuel-efficiency standards or reduce America's crippling dependence on foreign oil. The US currently imports 58 percent of the oil it consumes; analysts predict that figure will jump to 68 percent by 2025.

Such ominous trends prompt few worries from energy companies who rake in staggering profits while the US fights a war in oil-rich Iraq. "How the sausage is made is not important to me," says Melanie Kenderdine of the Gas Technology Institute, part of DeLay's select consortium. That's because it's the rest of us who get stuck with the greasy fat.