As a doctor, I am used to hearing patients describe their symptoms in a variety of ways. Recently, my patients have begun to describe a condition which seems to defy traditional medical diagnostic procedures. Some describe feeling a "lighter sensation in their wallets." Others complain about having to "dig much deeper into their purses." Still more complain that the sight of a dashboard fuel gauge approaching "empty" brings them great physical and mental discomfort.
After consulting all available medical literature, there is only one conclusion to make: All of these patients are experiencing the classic symptoms of "pain at the pump," a condition brought on by extremely high gasoline prices.
Regrettably, the Democratic leadership in Congress seems determined to make the conditions Americans face worse instead of better. Recently, the Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. John Dingell, has announced his intention to introduce legislation to raise the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by 50 cents per gallon! This would be an additional charge, levied on top of the already existing federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel.
If the Democrats are successful in their effort, how would this affect the average driver in Georgia? According to the American Automobile Association the average price for regular gasoline in Georgia is $3.22 per gallon. If Rep. Dingell's plan passes, this would automatically rise to $3.72 per gallon for regular gasoline. For diesel the prognosis is even worse. The average cost of diesel fuel in Georgia is $3.98 a gallon. With Rep. Dingell's plan in place, the average cost would jump to $4.48 per gallon.
FUEL PRICES approaching or exceeding $4 a gallon are only going to exacerbate consumers "pain at the pump." These prices will only make an already existing condition worse.
To treat the problems associated with "pain at the pump" it is necessary for Congress to immediately take the following actions. Consider it my prescription for dealing with this problem.
First, Congress must realize that the problem is not that gasoline is taxed too little, but that it is already taxed too much. Members of Congress should join me in opposing any efforts to increase federal taxes on fuel. Given the economic disruptions caused by the current high price of gasoline, Congress should go one step further and consider reducing or eliminating the already existing federal tax.
Second, Congress should let America become more energy-independent. If we could drill for more oil and natural gas off the coast of the United States or in the Rockies or Alaska, it could add to our ability to be less reliant on foreign energy sources. By increasing the world supply of oil and gas with our own existing resources, we could utilize the laws of supply and demand to bring the price of fuel down. An additional benefit would be that we could break the stranglehold on energy that is currently being enjoyed by countries in the Middle East that do not have America's best interests in mind. Let me be clear, this can definitely be done in an environmentally sound manner, and should be implemented immediately.
Third, we need alternative forms of energy production, including biofuels such as ethanol that are already in use; nuclear power that has proven to be an incredibly safe and successful source of power; solar; wind; and advancing technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells. The growth of Georgia and our nation will entail using all economical means available to us.
FOURTH, WE should encourage the construction of new refineries in the United States. It does little good to increase our use of domestic supplies of oil if we do not have the refinery capacity to quickly convert this fuel into a form usable in the market place. Because in part of successful lobbying efforts by environmental activists, there has not been a new refinery built anywhere in the United States in decades. We urgently need to upgrade our refining capabilities.
These four proposals serve as a prescription for the kind of energy policy this nation needs -- one that makes us stronger and less reliant on countries hostile to freedom, and one that will help cure the problem of "pain at the pump." But that would take a Democratic Congress willing to put an end to their desire to tax everything they see, and willing to stop playing politics with the environmental lobby at the expense of average Americans' ability to afford the fuel they need to work and live.
Our nation has been blessed with abundant natural resources. We shouldn't be hesitant to tap into them, especially at a time when energy costs are so high. Until Congress gets serious about the issue, "pain at the pump" seems to be a problem with no immediate treatment on the horizon.
Congress should remember the first rule of the Hippocratic Oath that I, and all doctors, take. That rule? "First, do no harm." By proposing to increase taxes on gasoline and by handcuffing our efforts to use domestic fuel sources, the Democratic Congress has shown that they don't understand this simple rule. I shudder to think of the implications this has for any future efforts by a Democratic Congress to implement universal health care.
(The writer is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Georgia's 10th Congressional District, which includes Augusta.)