Despite record-shattering gas prices, Capitol Hill lawmakers are struggling to find bipartisan agreement on how to deliver much-needed relief to consumers.

The political stakes are high as midterm elections approach and voters who feel like they just got mugged every time they fuel up could vent that frustration at the polls.

The situation facing consumers is likely to worsen before it gets better, Vicki Hollub, CEO of Occidental Petroleum, predicted during a recent online event hosted by the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas and Minneapolis.

Hollub cited pressure from investors to restrict spending, the overhang of the pandemic and spare capacity that’s at its lowest level in decades.

“We will see incremental production from the U.S. this year, but it’s going to be insufficient to meet the demands and there’s nobody else in the world that can do it in a fast way either,” Hollub said. “So, certainly oil is going to continue to stay at a high price. Gasoline prices will stay high as well.”

Biden announced in late March that the government would release a record 180 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over six months.

Despite such moves, prices this week topped over $4 a gallon in all 50 states. The national average reached an eye-popping $4.67 a gallon, although that is still below the inflation-adjusted peak set in 2008.

And yet the parties remain worlds apart on how to respond.

Democrats have criticized big oil companies for reaping billions in profits from the high prices and then using that money on shareholder dividends and stock buybacks rather than increasing production.

They have teed up a Thursday House vote on legislation to battle what they describe as “price gouging.” That bill would grant the Federal Trade Commission new authorities to investigate and block price hikes deemed “unconscionably excessive.”

It has the backing of members such as Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who has previously encouraged the FTC to investigate inflated gas prices. But its fate is uncertain given resistance from Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston, and others.

Fletcher declined to detail her reasons for opposing the bill, but at a hearing last month she defended the importance of the oil industry and called for less politicization of energy issues. Another Texas Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, has previously broken with the party on oil and gas regulations but did not respond to a request for comment on the bill.

While Democrats cited the billions of dollars in profits flowing to oil companies, Republican lawmakers objected to what they described as a “socialist price-fixing scheme” they said could lead to rationing and 1970s-style gas lines.

GOP members have instead placed the blame for high prices on President Joe Biden’s environmental policies, from his first-day decision to nix the Keystone XL pipeline to canceled oil and gas lease sales.

Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn joined 18 of their fellow Senate Republicans this week in sending a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo urging her to address agency miscalculations they said have delayed permits required to increase production on existing federal oil and gas leases.

And during a Wednesday press conference, Cruz reiterated his sharp criticism of the administration’s energy policies. Russian President Vladimir Putin bears some responsibility because of the supply disruptions flowing from his invasion of Ukraine, Cruz said, but prices were already on an upward trajectory well before Russian tanks started rolling.

Cruz said that during visits to West Texas communities, he has heard complaints banks won’t provide capital for new drilling operations.

“This administration has pressured them and they’re out of the business of loaning for new production,” Cruz said of the banks. “You can’t drill if you don’t have the capital to drill.”

Still, the situation represents a boom for Texas oil businesses in some respects.

David Blackmon, an independent energy analyst based in Mansfield, said the Texas oil industry is facing supply chain and workforce issues that limit growth, but the overall business environment is good. Companies have been able to generate a lot of cash and return it to investors.

“All in all, it’s really as strong a situation for the Texas industry as I have ever seen in my 43 years of association with it,” Blackmon said.

That comes as cold comfort to the consumers who continue to dig deep every time they fill up their tanks, of course.

Experts say more pain could be on the way as the United States enters the summer driving season, particularly as China emerges from COVID-19 lockdowns and Russian oil exports drop.

Two experts with the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, Garrett Golding and Lutz Kilian, recently penned a report in which they expressed skepticism that oil companies will be in position to help out in the near future.

They questioned the role of “price gouging” in high prices and also suggested that barriers exist for companies to ramp up production. And any boost in U.S. production would likely amount to little more than a drop in the bucket of global oil markets, they wrote.

“Even under the most favorable circumstances, higher production growth is unlikely to materially lower global oil prices — and, thus, U.S. retail gasoline prices — in the foreseeable future,” they wrote.

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