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Jun 02

It's time for oil companies to pay up

So I had this fun idea for a summer vacation: I would rent a small RV, and the family would take a cross-country jaunt to visit family and friends in the Midwest.

It was something different. A way to see the country. We could sit on a couch while riding through Oklahoma.

But then I factored in the fuel cost at four bucks a gallon and determined it would probably cost around three thousand bucks for the trip. So forget it, I said.

Yet another way high gas prices are socking it to us.

Have you noticed the price of food lately? Honestly, I don't remember Cookie Crisp cereal costing five bucks a box, but you see that now because grocery stores say they have to make up for the cost of trucking in food.

By the way, I love how businesses pass the price of gas on to us, the consumers. Even though we've lost jobs or endured pay cuts, we're forced to then pay more for milk because Ralphs doesn't want to make a little less profit.

Same with oil companies. They blame high pump prices on the cost of crude oil. So if the cost of crude oil goes up, they're not going to bear the brunt of it; they make us pay it. Otherwise, ExxonMobil wouldn't have been able to report $1.1 billion in gas sales in the first quarter of this year.

For the same quarter last year, ExxonMobil reported sales of $37 million.

It's good to know we're giving them tax breaks. Otherwise, they might screw us over.

By the way, the company reported profits of $30 billion for 2010.

That's the oil-protecting GOP argument, of course: If we tax them, they'll raise the price of fuel. But a simple look at the Tribune's photo archives show that the oil companies have pretty consistently raised prices even with those tax breaks:

A photo from November of 2001, shows a gas station sign announcing gas at $1.38 a gallon. A photo from May, 2003 (left) shows gas at $1.57 per gallon locally. In April, 2005, it was $2.99. By May of 2006, it had spiked to $3.37, and two years later, in June of '08, it had shot up to $4.69.

So, yeah — good thing we haven't raised their taxes; they might actually make us pay more for fuel.

Of course, both parties are sold out to the oil companies, which is why there's always a reluctance to regulate the industry and to really promote alternate sources of energy. The Democrats asked the FTC to investigate whether refineries purposely limited supply to keep prices "artificially high." But, really, do we think the Democrats will protect us from oil companies?

Hardly. But, let's face it, it's the Republicans who fantasize about stripping down and rolling in a puddle of oil. Which is why their solution to the gas situation is not to clamp down on oil companies taking advantage of us, but to demand we actually help the oil companies by giving them tax breaks and allowing them to drill more domestically.

Hey, aren't Republicans the ones saying we need to cut the deficit? Eliminating those tax breaks would go a long ways toward doing that — $21 billion over 10 years.

But no, we can't ask oil companies to pay. The cuts have to come from government services.

And schools.

In fact, before even thinking about raising the debt ceiling — which pretty much every economist says is necessary to prevent a major economic catastrophe — the Republicans are demanding more cuts in government spending. Which, you'd think, would be a good time for Democrats to say, "Ok, we'll do this big cuts thing — if you cut tax breaks for oil companies and billionaires."

But, no. Because Democrats are weak.

So gas companies will continue to get their precious tax breaks, and they will continue to raise the price of fuel, which will make it harder for working people, which will make the economy even weaker. Because, let's face it, if I have to pay $4 a gallon for gas and $5 for a box of cereal, I'm not going to spend money on other things, like RV rentals.

Man, this summer's gonna be the best yet.

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