CREATING LONG-TERM ENERGY ALTERNATIVES FOR THE NATION ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - June 13, 2007)
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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from New Mexico.
AMENDMENT NO. 1519
Mr. President, I have sought recognition to speak on an amendment which has been filed, amendment No. 1519, which has an impressive list of sponsors: Senator Kohl, Senator Leahy, Senator Grassley, Senator Biden, Senator Coburn, Senator Feingold, Senator Snowe, Senator Durbin, Senator Boxer, Senator Lieberman, Senator Schumer, Senator Sanders, and myself.
The thrust of this amendment is to make the OPEC nations--which have conspired to limit production--subject to our antitrust laws. What we have, simply stated, are a group of oil-producing nations, that get together that make agreements to limit production. Inevitably, by limiting the production of oil, and thereby limiting supply, the price goes up. The limited supply of oil is the major contributing factor to high gasoline prices. It is high time we acted on this matter.
The Judiciary Committee has approved this legislation on four occasions, most recently on May 22 of this year. In the 109th Congress, the legislation was passed out of the Judiciary Committee in which I was the chair, and it was included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, but it did not survive conference.
Senator Kohl and I and the other sponsors intend to ask for a rollcall vote, which I think a substantial number of Senators will vote for the amendment. I hate to predict things in this body, but I think the vote will be substantial, and I think that ought to carry very substantial weight in conference.
The facts on the current price of gasoline are very troublesome. The high price of oil drives up other prices. The statistics are worth noting with particularity. The price of crude oil reached $65 a barrel yesterday. Americans are paying an average of $3.06 for a gallon of gasoline. Consumers are paying more for products because American companies are paying more to run their factories, which require the consumption of energy. Consumers are also paying more for products they buy that have been shipped by train or truck from somewhere else. Plane fares, bus tickets, cab fares often include significant fuel surcharges.
Economists have estimates that for every $10 increase in the price of oil, our economic growth falls by a half a percent. Our economy grew only by 0.6 percent in the first quarter of this year--the slowest growth rate since 2002. I believe a fair amount of that lag in economic growth can be attributed to the high price of oil.
For decades, the OPEC members have conspired to manipulate oil prices through production quotas that limit the number of barrels sold. OPEC again appears to be poised to manipulate oil prices by limiting supply.
The Secretary General of OPEC, Abdullah al-Badri, recently threatened to cut investment in new oil production in response to plans announced by the United States and other Western countries to use more biofuels. He warned that cutting investment in new production would cause oil prices to ``go through the roof.''
Well, we do not have to tolerate threats of that sort. We have the wherewithal to deal with this issue in a constructive way through the antitrust laws.
Regrettably, the history of litigation in this field has allowed OPEC nations to avoid antitrust liability by asserting the doctrine of sovereign immunity. In the decision of International Association of Machinists v. OPEC, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California held that OPEC activity was ``governmental activity'' rather than ``commercial activity'' and therefore was not subject to the U.S. antitrust laws.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, holding that the ``act of state'' doctrine precluded the court from exercising jurisdiction in the case. The ``act of state'' doctrine precludes a federal court from hearing a case that requires it to rule on the legality of the sovereign acts of a foreign nation.
Well, those rulings are matters which can be changed by legislation. The legislation to make this change, I submit, is fundamental and very much in our national interest and ought to be undertaken.
The lawsuits would have to be initiated, under our proposed legislation, by the Department of Justice. As a result, the Administration would provide a check on when to initiate a suit, avoiding diplomatic disputes. But it is a fact we have deferred too long to the practices of Saudi Arabia and practices of the OPEC oil nations out of fear of retribution, and we ought not to kowtow to them anymore.
The possibility of subjecting the OPEC nations to antitrust liability has long been an interest of mine. I wrote to President Clinton on April 11, 2000, urging the administration to file suit in the Federal court under the antitrust laws in an effort to overturn the previous decisions, which I think were wrongly decided.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of this letter be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my comments.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
(See Exhibit 1.)
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, then I wrote to President Bush on April 25, 2001, with a similar request, that litigation be initiated by the administration to hold OPEC nations liable under the antitrust laws.
Again, I ask unanimous consent that the text of that letter be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
(See Exhibit 2.)
Mr. SPECTER. We have the authority to change the laws. We have a responsibility to protect American consumers from these predatory practices, from these conspiracies in restraint of trade, these cartels. I urge my colleagues to take a close look at the legislation.
As I noted earlier, the amendment will be formally offered tomorrow.
I thank the Chair, yield back the remainder of my time, and yield the floor.
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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, first, I thank the Senator from Minnesota for yielding. I know she yielded to Senator Leahy; and Senator Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has made some comments which I think I ought to supplement.
I believe when you have the subpoena issued for Ms. Sara Taylor, the White House staff, it is appropriate at this time. A letter was sent to Ms. Taylor on April 11 requesting testimony and documents, and there has been no response.
It is my hope, as I have said at Judiciary Committee meetings, executive sessions, that we will yet be able to work this out with Ms. Taylor on a cooperative basis without any further controversy.
The enforcement mechanism of the subpoenas is very lengthy. The last time it was undertaken, with the conflict between congressional oversight and the White House, it took more than 2 years. That would take us into 2009, after the election of a new President.
I think with respect to the subpoena to former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, there again the request went out some time ago, and they have not been forthcoming, and I think it is appropriate to proceed--again, in a manner which looks toward conciliation, looks toward resolving it without controversy.
I talked again today to White House Counsel Fred Fielding on the question as to how we are going to obtain testimony from executive branch officials who are high up in the White House, and the President made a televised statement some time ago setting forth the acceptable parameters from the President's point of view. After reflecting on it and talking to members of the Judiciary Committee--both Democrats and Republicans--I think that most of what the President wants can be accommodated.
He does not want his officials, his employees, put under oath. My preference would be to have an oath, but I would not insist on that because the testimony would be subject to prosecution under the False Statements Act, 18 United States Code 1001.
He does not want to have the sessions public. My preference again would be to have them public, but I would not insist upon that.
He does not want to have the officials come before the Senate Judiciary Committee, then before the House Judiciary Committee, and I think we can accommodate that, having members of both committees--both Democrats and Republicans--in a manageable group to obtain the necessary information.
The one point where I think it is indispensable is that we obtain a transcript.
If you don't have a transcript, people walk out of the room in perfectly good faith and have different versions as to what happened. I think it is in the interest of all sides to have a transcript. It is in the interest of congressional oversight so we have it precise, so we can pursue questions and have them in black and white and know where we stand. It is important for the people whose depositions are being taken that it be written down, too, so nobody can say they said something they didn't say because we know what they said when it is transcribed. I am pleased to say to the distinguished Presiding Officer, the Senator from Rhode Island who is nodding in the affirmative, as a former U.S. attorney, attorney general, and one who has had experience with transcripts, as has the chairman and I, it needs to be written down.
I hope we can accommodate the competing interests here. There is no doubt there are very important issues involved: The request for resignations from the U.S. attorneys and the reasons why they were replaced. There is no doubt the President has the authority to remove all 93 U.S. attorneys without giving any reason. President Clinton did that at the beginning of his term in 1993. I think it is equally clear the President can't replace people for bad reasons. There is a suggestion of pressure on the U.S. attorney from San Diego that she was going after some of former Congressman Cunningham's associates, who is serving an 8-year sentence, and that pressure was put on some other U.S. attorney in some other direction for an improper purpose, and that is an appropriate question for congressional oversight. We had a lengthy and heated debate earlier this week on the resolution to say the Senate has no confidence in the Attorney General. That was defeated on procedural grounds.
But the issue of the operation of the Department of Justice is not yet finished. This inquiry is very important. Next to the Department of Defense, which defends the homeland and is our military defense, next in line is the Department of Justice, which deals with terrorism, deals with drugs, deals with violent crime and that department has to function in the interests of the American people. And getting to the bottom of this investigation is important for that purpose. So I wanted to appear to make these brief comments, following the statement by the distinguished Chairman. I thank the Senator from Minnesota.
I yield the floor.