Rep. Katie Porter Accuses GOP of Trying to “Weaponize” Gas Prices to “Win the Election”
Porter told Rogue Rocket that federal initiatives to address inflation are being hindered by GOP efforts to score political points ahead of the midterm elections.
The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act
As millions of Americans continue to grapple with sky-high prices, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) is working to tackle one of the most significant areas of inflation: gas prices.
Last month, the House passed a bill co-introduced by Porter dubbed the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act. The legislation, which has been described as the first federal price-gouging law, would give the president the power to declare an emergency period under which it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices in an exploitative manner.
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage price gouging violations from larger companies. In an interview with Rogue Rocket, Porter said that the act was specifically designed to target large oil companies which have seen record profits in the first quarter of 2022 when consumers were experiencing unprecedented prices at the pump.
“We are seeing prices at the pump that don’t line up with the price of the commodity of the oil that Big Gas, Big Oil companies are purchasing,” Porter said. “We’re seeing that in part because of Putin, we’re seeing that in part because of the pandemic, but we’re also seeing Big Oil companies price gouge.”
“There is a market-based element to this, but we also have incredible market concentration here where we have a handful of large companies that control the oil and gas, they control the refining,” she added.
“If Big Oil was passing along their higher input costs, then you wouldn’t see a huge jump in their profit. The price of oil that consumers pay may change, but the profit would stay steady.”
Porter Takes Aim at Republicans
Porter’s bill, which was passed by very slim margins in the House, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate. The Congresswoman told Rogue Rocket she believes that opposition to the bill is driven in part by the immense political power Big Oil possesses.
“Oil and gas are huge spenders in the political ecosystem through their PACs, their corporate PACs, their executives,” she explained. “I think anybody who’s taking Big Oil money, that is an obvious first [sic] explanation here — it affects their thinking in all likelihood.”
“I think one of the things that we’ve seen from Republicans is that they want to use this moment, the pandemic, Putin, the price gouging, the whole constellation of things here in order to advance the longstanding agenda of Big Oil — which is more exploration, more speculative leasing, more market consolidation, and control,” she continued. “So the best you really hear from Republicans is ‘drill, baby, drill, more drilling here in the United States.’ And that really overlooks two things. One, we are already at record and near-record American production. We have not cut production.”
“It also ignores the fact that continued drilling, that’s a solution that’s not going to produce more oil for 10, 20, 30, 40 years. Congress has too much policymaking already that’s looking backwards, that’s trying to solve yesterday’s problem tomorrow. We need to be thinking about what is the energy policy that’s going to prevent this from ever holding back our economy again, and that is investing in clean energy and holding Big Oil companies accountable to follow the law.”
Porter also argued that high gas prices — and inflation in general — are being exacerbated by Republican lawmakers’ inaction and attempts to politicize the issue.
“We are seeing Republicans weaponize the hike in gas prices in order to try to win the election. And they are willing, through their votes, they are willing to let Americans continue to suffer at the pump in order to score political points,” Porter said “They are not bringing to the table solutions to bring down the price of gas, to bring down the price that consumers are paying. They are perfectly happy to have us have to deal with filling up a tank for $100 or more than $100 if it gets them a few more seats in November or they think it will.”
“Inflation is a problem — Democrats and Republicans agree on that,” she continued. “The difference is Democrats are putting forward solutions like my bill, the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, to try to address it. Republicans are willing to let Americans suffer in order to make sure they get reelected in the fall.”
Biden Ramps Up Efforts to Address Inflation
Porter’s remarks to Rogue Rocket come as President Joe Biden has recently launched a new initiative to combat inflation amid increased political pressure and low approval ratings ahead of the midterm elections.
In a meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell last week, Biden appeared to underscore to voters that he is listening to their concerns and said that addressing inflation was his “top priority.”
While Biden emphasized that, first and foremost, he will help fix the problem by giving the Federal Reserve “the space they need to do their job,” he also launched a PR blitz to show Americans he and his top aides are seriously working to address the issue.
In an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal, the president further laid out his plans to address inflation. Beyond outlining actions his administration has already taken, the president focused on multiple measures he has proposed in his domestic economic agenda — which has been stalled in the Senate.
These proposals included plans to make housing more affordable, reduce the price of prescription drugs, lower the cost of child and elder care, pass clean energy tax credits, and cut the federal budget deficit.
“I’ve done what I can on my own to help working families during this challenging time — and will keep acting to lower costs where I can — but now Congress needs to act too,” Biden wrote.
See what others are saying: (Vox) (Bloomberg) (The Associated Press)
White House Endorses Bipartisan Senate Bill That Could Ban TikTok
The measure does not target TikTok specifically but instead would set up a framework to crack down on foreign products and services that present a national security threat.
The RESTRICT Act
A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow the federal government to restrict or even outright ban TikTok and other technologies produced by foreign companies.
Under the legislation, dubbed the RESTRICT Act, the Commerce Department would have sweeping authority to identify and regulate technologies that pose a risk to national security and are produced by companies in six “foreign adversary” countries: China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea.
In other words, the proposal would not explicitly ban TikTok, but instead creates a path for future prohibitions on the Chinese-owned platform.
While the bill’s text does not specifically mention TikTok, the group of senators made it clear that the app is their number one target, directing most of their criticism to the platform in statements announcing the measure.
The legislation, however, would go way beyond TikTik: it is also designed to prepare for future situations where apps or technologies from an “adversary” country become popular in the U.S.
The bill’s Democratic sponsor, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Ma.), echoed that point in his remarks Tuesday.
“Today, the threat that everyone is talking about is TikTok, and how it could enable surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party, or facilitate the spread of malign influence campaigns in the U.S.,” he said. “Before TikTok, however, it was Huawei and ZTE, which threatened our nation’s telecommunications networks. And before that, it was Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, which threatened the security of government and corporate devices.”
“We need a comprehensive, risk-based approach that proactively tackles sources of potentially dangerous technology before they gain a foothold in America, so we aren’t playing Whac-A-Mole and scrambling to catch up once they’re already ubiquitous.”
Proponents of the bill also hope that, given the broad scope of the legislation, it will gain more traction than past proposals that zeroed in on TikTok. Support for the measure was further bolstered when the White House announced it would back the move shortly after it was rolled out.
“This bill presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “We look forward to continue working with both Democrats and Republicans on this bill, and urge Congress to act quickly to send it to the President’s desk.”
A Bumpy Road Ahead
Despite the bipartisan push, there are still some hurdles for the RESTRICT Act to overcome.
Although the legislation does not directly ban TikTok, because that is clearly its intent, the same issues with an outright prohibition still stand. One of the most serious concerns is that banning TikTok would violate the First Amendment.
There is past precedent on this front: in 2020, a federal magistrate judge blocked the Trump administration from requiring Apple and Google to take the Chinese-owned app WeChat off their app stores.
In that decision, the judge argued that the government only had “modest” evidence about the app’s risks and that removing it from app stores would “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to serve the government’s significant interest in national security.”
TikTok has emulated that argument. In a statement responding to the RESTRICT Act Tuesday, a spokesperson for the company said the legislation could “have the effect of censoring millions of Americans.”
Meanwhile, even if the act does pass, there is also the question of whether the Biden administration would decide on a full-scale ban.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo would be the one responsible for overseeing the process under the bill, and while she said she said in a statement that she “welcomed” the proposal and promised to work with Congress to pass it, she has also previously expressed hesitation for a full prohibition.
On the other end of the equation, there are concerns that this measure will not ultimately get enough bipartisan support from Republicans who do want an outright ban and will refuse to accept anything that falls short of that.
While speaking with Fox News on Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) said the new plan did not go far enough and argued that Congress “should pass a bill that bans TikTok.”
Even if the legislation does get enough support in the Senate, its path is unclear in the GOP-held House, where it also does not yet have a companion bill. Republicans in the House recently introduced a measure that would give the president the power to unilaterally ban TikTok in the U.S.
That proposal, however, is not bipartisan like the RESTRICT Act, which will be a key test to see if legislators can find a middle ground on the matter.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (NBC News)
What You Need to Know About Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Race — The Most Important Election in 2023
Gerrymandering, abortion, the 2024 presidential election, and much more are on the line.
An election to fill an empty seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that has been described as the most consequential race of 2023 has now been narrowed to two candidates after the primary Tuesday.
Liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz easily took first place, winning 46.4% of the vote with nearly all precincts reporting. In second place with 24.2% was conservative Daniel Kelly, a former Wisconsin State Supreme Court justice who was appointed by the state’s then-Republican governor in 2016 but lost his re-election in 2020.
Notably, the wide discrepancy in votes can be explained by the fact that Kelly split Republican ballots with another conservative candidate who came in a close third with 21.9%. As such, the general election is expected to be tight.
Also of note, this race is technically supposed to be non-partisan, but Protasiewicz has closely aligned herself with Democrats and Kelly has done the same with Republicans. Both parties, as well as dark money groups, have poured millions of dollars into the high-stakes election that will determine whether liberals or conservatives will have a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court at an incredibly consequential time.
There are a number of paramount issues at play here that have widespread implications not just for Wisconsin but America at-large.
Gerrymandering and Elections
Wisconsin is one of the most important swing states in the country: it helped decide the outcomes of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, and it is the center of debates on gerrymandering and free and fair elections that have played a role in those races.
The state Supreme Court, which has had a conservative majority for the last 14 years, has been instrumental in shaping those policies, having weighed in on many of the most crucial topics and almost always siding with Republicans.
For example, in what VICE described as “arguably the most important decision the court made in recent years,” the court ruled 4-3 last year to uphold one of America’s most gerrymandered maps that gave Republicans a massive advantage.
“The maps are so gerrymandered that Republicans hold six of Wisconsin’s eight House seats and nearly two-thirds of legislative seats in the state—even though Democrats won most statewide races last year,” the outlet reported.
That ruling created something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: the conservative majority court has decided so many critical topics because the state government is deadlocked with a Republican majority in the legislature and a Democratic governor.
So, by approving a map that massively favored Republicans, the conservative court kept that system in place, ensuring that they would continue to have the final say on so many of these essential areas.
However, if Protasiewicz wins the general election, the court is all but certain to revisit the gerrymandered map. Protasiewicz, for her part, explicitly stated in a recent interview that a liberal majority could establish new election maps. Kelly, meanwhile, has said he has no interest in revisiting the maps.
A decision unfavorable to the GOP-drawn maps would have significant implications for the internal politics of Wisconsin and control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a very slim five-seat majority.
To that point, the Wisconsin Supreme Court also plays a big role in how the state’s elections are administered and how its ten Electoral College votes will be doled out in the 2024 presidential election.
Last year, the conservative court banned absentee ballot drop boxes, and in 2014, it upheld a GOP voter ID law that studies have shown suppressed Black voters. While the court did vote against considering former President Donald Trump’s lawsuit to try and overturn the 2020 election in Wisconsin, it only did so by a thin margin of 4-3.
The court will very likely be tasked with wading into elections-related cases in the coming years. Already, it is anticipated that the justice will hear a lawsuit by a conservative group aiming to further limit voting access by banning mobile and alternate voting facilities.
Abortion and Other Important Statewide Subjects
In addition to the ramifications for America broadly, there are also plenty of paramount issues concerning the state Supreme Court that will materially impact the people of Wisconsin.
Much of the race has been centered heavily on the topic of abortion and reproductive rights because the composition of the court will almost positively determine whether or not abortion will be legal for the state’s six million residents.
Following the Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, an 1849 Wisconsin law banning abortion went back into effect. Currently, a lawsuit against the ban is winding its way through the court system, and it is all but assured that battle will eventually go before Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
Experts and analysts say that if Kelly wins, it is essentially guaranteed that abortion will remain illegal in almost all cases. Protasiewicz, by contrast, has campaigned extensively on abortion rights and vocally supported the right to choose.
Beyond that, there are also several other major issues the court will likely rule on in the coming years. For example, Protasiewicz has also said she believes a liberal majority could reverse a 12-year-old law that basically eliminated collective bargaining for public workers. All of that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Everything is at stake, and I mean everything: Women’s reproductive rights, the maps, drop boxes, safe communities, clean water,” Protasiewicz told VICE. “Everything is on the line.”
See what others are saying: (VICE) (The New York Times) (The Washington Post)
Republicans Want to Cut Food Stamps — Even As Pandemic-Era Programs Wind Down
Experts say cuts to food stamps could have a devastating impact on the 41 million Americans who rely on the program.
GOP Weighs SNAP Cuts in Budget
In recent weeks, top Republican lawmakers have floated several different ideas for cutting food stamp benefits.
Earlier this month, Republicans now leading the House Budget Committee flagged food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP — as one of the ten areas they would support cuts to in their new budget proposal.
In a memo, the panel argued that stricter work requirements would “save tens of billions,” while a more rigid verification process for applicants would limit waste, fraud, and abuse. The idea comes as part of a broader effort to reduce the federal deficit.
Experts, however, say the proposed changes could result in debilitating cuts for the 41 million Americans who rely on food stamps and exacerbate an ongoing hunger crisis at a time when inflation has sent food prices rising.
SNAP provides low-income households with an average of around $230 a month for groceries. For many of those families who are also the most impacted by inflationary price increases across the board, that money is absolutely essential.
Experts have also noted that any additional cuts to SNAP would be especially harmful because Republicans are still proposing new cuts despite the fact that Congress already agreed just two months ago to end a pandemic-era program that had increased benefits in some states.
Under the pandemic policies, SNAP was expanded so households could receive maximum benefits instead of benefits based on income testing while also giving bigger payouts to the lowest-income Americans.
That expansion is now set to expire in March, and according to the anti-hunger advocacy group the Food Research and Action Center, an estimated 16 million households will see their per-person benefits drop by around $82 a month.
The Farm Bill Debate
Even if Republicans do not end up cutting SNAP in the budget, the program may still be in hot water.
While raising the debt limit is at the forefront of ongoing partisan battles at the moment, there is already a fight shaping up over another essential piece of legislation: the farm bill.
The farm bill is a package that has to be updated and reauthorized every couple of years. One of the most important legislative tasks Congress is responsible for, the farm bill includes many important subsidies and programs that are imperative to America’s food systems, farms, and much more.
SNAP is among the nutrition-based programs that fall under the purview of the farm bill, and Republicans have already tossed around the idea of cutting food stamp benefits in their ongoing negotiations.
Those debates are quite forward-looking, though it is normal for such discussions to occur early during a year in which Congress is charged with passing the farm bill. Lawmakers have until Oct. 1 to either enact a new version or agree on some kind of extension.