Cicilline Urges House to Hold Big Oil Accountable for Skyrocketing Prices

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman David N. Cicilline (RI-01) today took to the House Floor to implore his colleagues to act to hold companies accountable for taking advantage of the American people as the country recovers from an unprecedented pandemic.
The Congressman argued, “[T]his is about corporate greed, about people taking advantage of this moment as the American people are recovering from a very difficult couple of years. We should not, in addition to that, allow them to be victims of this kind of price gouging. We have the ability to do something about it. We have bills that I hope we’ll bring to the Floor, return what was improperly taken from consumers at the gas pump – return it back to them.”

A transcript of the Congressman’s remarks is below.

Madam Speaker, Our economy is still recovering from two years of a once in a generation pandemic that basically shutdown our economy.   As Americans stopped going out and spending money, companies slowed production – not only to meet this change in demand but also to allow for social distancing and COVID safety protocols for workers.  Now, as Americans have started to resume their normal lives, companies are struggling to keep up with the increased demand for goods. These supply chain issues and a worker shortage has resulted in higher prices across the economy. These issues do not fully explain some of the skyrocketing prices that we’re seeing. The pandemic, and the ensuing recovery, have laid bare systemic problems in our economy including market consolidation and price gouging.  As our economy works to recover from the pandemic and the shocks to our supply chain, and as the world responds to Putin’s reckless invasion of Ukraine, food and energy costs have skyrocketed for people around the world, including here in America and including in my district in Rhode Island. While President Biden has taken a number of steps to tackle costs for Americans, including releasing millions of barrels of petroleum from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, expanding access to gasoline with 15% ethanol, and additional investments in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help those most in need, systemic imbalances in our economy are enabling companies to further drive up costs. Put simply, they’re taking advantage of hardworking Americans and raising prices just because they can – all for the sake of extraordinary profits. As Americans are working to recover from two years of an unprecedented health crisis and the economic downturn it caused, companies are reporting record profits as worker pay remains stagnant and families feel the squeeze on their pocketbooks. This is especially true in the case of gas prices. Exxon, for example, is reporting that in the first quarter of 2022, its net profits have more than doubled to $5.5 billion compared to last year. And Chevron has reported its highest quarterly profit in nearly a decade. These record profits are a direct result of record gas prices – if these prices were solely based on inflation or supply chain issues, these companies wouldn’t be seeing these obscene increases in profits. To make matters worse, these record profits aren’t being invested in new drilling sites to help us deal with energy shortages brought on by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but instead are going to massive company stock buybacks, shareholder dividends, and salary bonuses. This is pandemic, war profiteering. In grocery stores across America, the cost of food continues to rise, as prices for goods like pork, chicken, and beef have spiked dramatically. And while some may point solely to inflation for these increased prices, there is once again a larger, systemic problem. In the meatpacking industry, for example, the top four companies are estimated to control up to 85% of the industry. And in industries all across our economy the story is the same:

 

  • Three firms control 93% of the soft drink industry,
  • Three firms control 85% of the baby formula industry,
  • Three firms control 93% of the baby food industry,
  • Four firms control 79% of the beer industry,
  • Three firms control 79% of the dry pasta industry, and
  • Three firms control 73% of the cereal industry.

If history has taught us anything – this kind of market consolidation hurts product quality, market competition, and worker safety – all the things we need to have an equitable economy.  As simply put by President Biden, “Capitalism without competition is exploitation.” So, as we look to recover from this pandemic, and in a way that creates an economy that works for everyone – for the people of this country – we need to hold these monopolistic giants accountable. To start, Congress must pass the Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax [Act]. Companies that have taken advantage of this moment, taken advantage of the American people in a time of crisis shouldn’t be raking in record profits and those profits should be returned to the consumers that they gouged. We also should pass H.R.7688 to be sure that we are taking on, in a serious way, price gouging in the energy sector and I’m working with Congresswoman Schakowsky on an economy-wide anti-price gouging bill. We need ensure that we’re funding the FTC to do this work so that it can conduct rigorous investigations and look carefully at this kind of market consolidation. But look, this is about corporate greed, about people taking advantage of this moment as the American people are recovering from a very difficult couple of years. We should not, in addition to that, allow them to be victims of this kind of price gouging. We have the ability to do something about it. We have bills that I hope we’ll bring to the Floor, return what was improperly taken from consumers at the gas pump – return it back to them. And I also want to thank President Biden for the work that he’s doing to bring down gas prices, to focus relentlessly on inflation both for food and gas. This is the number one concern of my constituents in Rhode Island and it will remain the number one concern in the weeks ahead. As we do something, be sure that we're taking on these profiteers and pandemic profiteers and war profiteers. Thank you, Madam Speaker. I yield back.

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