GOP Leader: Price Caps Are Like 'Steroids'

Price caps are "much like steroids --- they make you look good in the short term, but they kill you in the long run," warned Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma and chairman of the House Republican Conference during the Natural Gas Roundtable last week.

As the rallying cry by congressional Democrats for price caps reached a crescendo level, Watts toed the Republican line against price controls on wholesale electricity transactions in California and in other western states, saying they would only lead to further blackouts this summer and possibly rationing, similar to the gasoline rationing of the 1970s. "If your address ends in an even number, you [can] run your air-conditioning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If your address ends in an odd number, you run your air-conditioning on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On Sunday, nobody drives and nobody runs their air-conditioning. That's what price caps will lead to."

House and Senate Democrats have pointed to the high profits of energy companies to justify their calls for price caps, according to Watts. But he noted nine other industries had higher profits than the energy industry during the past year. Does that mean Congress should consider price caps for those industries as well? Watts asked. "...[W]e need to think through this thing" before any action is taken.

In their effort to win price caps, Democrats are "demonizing" the energy companies on Capitol Hill and in their home districts, trying to "convince people that there is a corporate conspiracy out there to 'get' every senior citizen, soccer mom and college kid," said the former Oklahoma regulator. "I don't believe there's price gouging" occurring in California or in other energy markets.

Watts, who has called for hearings into energy prices, extended an open invitation to the energy industry to come and tell its side of the story to the Republican-controlled energy committees in the House. "If you don't tell your story, someone else is [going] to tell it for you. I'm offering you an opportunity --- a wide-open door --- to sit down in front of a fair and balanced audience and give the facts. I hope the energy industry will embrace this request," he noted.

"I got to tell you if I was an energy [company], I'd say 'Put me under oath. Let me tell my story,'" he told energy executives in Washington D.C. "...I would think it would be good for those [who are] demonized to come in and say 'Let me tell you the rest of the story. Let me tell you my side of the story.'"

This advice "is coming from a fellow that's from an energy state, but it's also coming from someone [who] was a regulator" at one time, Watts said. Watts is a former chairman of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

He cautioned energy companies not to make the "same mistake" as the Republicans, who he said prefer to talk about policy, which is something of little interest to the American public, while the Democrats have zeroed in on a topic that immediately catches everyone's attention --- prices.

"When I took over communications [for the Republican Party] about 2 1/2 years ago, I wanted to change the culture of how Republicans talk...Democrats are talking prices and we're talking policy. President Bush has a great [energy] plan in my opinion," but "that's policy" and "people don't understand that," Watts said. "I think we have to be concerned about talking about things in a way that people understand."

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