GOP and Dems Trade Shots Over Gas Bills, But Which Plan Would Lower Costs?

“What is more likely to lower gas prices: Raising taxes on oil companies or increasing oil production?”

-- Senate Republican aide talking to Power Play about competing energy legislation in Congress this week

With debt and budget negations stalled for the time being, members of Congress will instead turn to the business of assigning political blame over high gas prices.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected this week to push forward a Democratic plan that would transfer tax breaks for American oil companies to approved green-energy firms.

House Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, will bring up a series of votes on a suite of Republican legislation aimed at breaking President Obama’s clampdown on offshore drilling permits.

Even as recession fears force commodity prices downward, gas prices are expected to continue to rise above $4-per-gallon. Uncertainty abroad, rising global demand, a shattered U.S. dollar and decreased domestic production all mean prices will continue to increase for hard-pressed American consumers.

When it comes to high gas prices, the House Republican plan would do little to bring down short-term prices. Even if Senate Democrats and President Obama were to go along with the drilling, baby, drilling, it would take months for the new crude to hit refineries and increase domestic supplies. Any short-term reduction would come from speculators jumping out on the bet of increased future production.

The Democratic proposal, however, would almost certainly raise gasoline prices as companies compensated for $4 billion in increased federal taxes. The plan proposed by President Obama and subsequently championed by Reid and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is part of a multi-year effort to encourage green energy (in part by keeping energy prices high).

Last year, America’s largest oil company, Exxon, paid about $10 billion in federal taxes and made a profit of about $30 billion. If the tax bill had been $11 billion, it is unlikely that Exxon shareholders would have wanted the money to come out of profits. The money instead would have come from consumers.

While Democrats are betting that consumers would feel good about seeing politicians sticking it to big oil in the form of tax increases, American drivers (and voters) would likely understand the basic economics of taxation. Plus, gas prices are helping to stunt the already puny recovery. For middle-class consumers, high gas prices mean disposable income vanishes.

But the House would never let the Democratic plan through, either.

The real issue in Washington is about the budget deals that continue behind closed doors. The Gang of Six is shrouded in doubt as Gang member and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad is threatening to start pushing his own debt-reduction proposal.

Democrats are stalled on how to proceed on obtaining an increase in the federal government’s $14.3 trillion debt limit, and Republicans are mostly waiting to see how that plays out before getting too jiggy about a 2012 budget proposal.

Until the dam breaks, trying to score points on gas prices will have to suffice.

U.S. to Pakistan: Think About What You’ve Done and Decide Your Own Punishment

“We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don't know who or what that support network was. We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that's something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.”

-- President Obama talking to CBS News about Usama bin Laden’s more than five years living down the road from a Pakistani military base

Pakistan’s government almost certainly doesn’t have control of the military (or seemingly much of anything), and Pakistan’s military almost certainly doesn’t have control over the country’s intelligence forces.

So accountability isn’t exactly the watchword of the 170-million-person, nuclear-armed, Muslim nation.

But as the Obama administration looks for a way forward in Pakistan after the embarrassing discovery that supposed terror mastermind Usama bin Laden was living in a squalid mansion with his polygamous clan, the president needs some show of contrition from our troublesome allies.

But, the chaotic condition of Pakistani politics means that no one is in a strong enough position to take the blame in order to give Obama the chance to declare his satisfaction. Congress and the public its members represent are getting agitated about Pakistan’s part in the bin Laden debacle.

How could bin Laden have lived for five or even seven years in a neighborhood filled with military brass? How could Pakistan’s vaunted intelligence organization have told us that bin Laden was moldering in a cave while he was watching TV at home? How can the Pakistani government belt about our violation of their sovereignty given such spectacular failures, especially since U.S. tax dollars are the only thing keeping the regime afloat?

But the Islamists have been on the march for many years in Pakistan, and if the U.S. pushes too hard on the creaky governing structure the whole thing might collapse into a pile of Taliban-tainted rubble.

Obama’s plan for a troop drawdown in Afghanistan depends on the escalation of the covert war on terror-tied groups in Pakistan. Drone attacks, operatives and, when necessary, commando raids, are all part of the strategy to be implemented by Obama’s CIA director designee, Gen. David Petraeus, as the military starts its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

But the U.S. presence is driving skyward popular anger at the tottering regime of President Asif Ali Zardari. If the Islamists and the military were to form an alliance like the one in Egypt, secular, Democratic governance would quickly be dispatched.

Bin Laden Death May Be Useful in Taliban Talks

"The deal between the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda was between Mullah Omar and Usama bin Laden, not the organizations.”

-- Gen. David Petraeus talking to the Associated Press about increased hopes for bringing the Taliban into the Afghan government

The Taliban has so far been unable to retake its former stronghold of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. After several days of fighting, Afghan forces with heavy U.S. support have been able to retain control of most of the city.

But the weakness of the central government in Kabul and the tribal sympathies of the locals mean that the long-term prospects of holding the city look fairly dim.

With President Obama’s July deadline for the end of the troop surge in Afghanistan looming, American forces are trying to step up the integration of Taliban elements into the country’s government.

The long-stated goal has been to find the less radical elements in the Taliban and get them to participate in the political process in Afghanistan the same way that Sunni militias were brought into the political process in Iraq.

The strong hope in the military is that the death of Usama bin Laden, especially given the banality of his circumstances at the end of his life, will make it more likely that moderate Talibanis will finally start stepping up.

The effort so far has been a bust, in no small part because the current government often works at cross purposes with American commanders.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government is rotten with corruption and always looking to make a separate peace with the Taliban that will ensure his claque holds on to power after the U.S. leaves.

But perhaps with bin Laden dead and his organization demystified, some more Talibanis will be willing to sit down with American-backed negotiators.

Hopes for Christie Hinder Daniels

"There isn't anyone like Chris Christie on the national scene. And so we believe that he, or someone like him, running for president is very important at this critical time in our country."

-- Bruce Rastetter, an Iowa businessman, who will lead a delegation of Hawkeye State GOP Donors to New Jersey for a meeting with Gov. Christie

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is closing in on a decision about a presidential run, and signs increasingly point to a “yes” by the Republican. He’s schmoozing reporters and a network of longtime associates has begun reaching out to develop a network that could be turned into a fundraising machine.

But before the Hoosier budget hawk flaps into the race, he might want to book some face time with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Christie has vowed to not enter the GOP presidential field, even on pain of death. But many in Republican circles are holding out hope.

On May 30, Christie will receive a delegation of Iowa Republican donors who will try to make their case that the freshman governor should get in the race. If such hopes persist, Daniels could find it hard to garner support for his run.

Christie and Daniels occupy very similar space in the political spectrum, appealing primarily to fiscal conservatives and preaching similar doctrines of austerity and simplicity when it comes to government. The difference is that Christie has captivated Republicans nationally, while Daniels has mostly captivated a wonky elite in Washington and New York.

If Daniels is a hawk, Christie is a condor.

As long as a significant chunk of Republicans hold out hope that Christie might make a late entry into the GOP field, it will be hard for Daniels to get traction. Just as Fred Thompson limited Mike Huckabee’s chances in 2008, Christie might hamper Daniels.

Egypt’s Christians Under Attack

“We have no law or security, we are in a jungle. We are in a state of chaos. One rumor burns the whole area. Everyday we have a catastrophe."

-- Anba Theodosius, bishop of Giza, talking to the Assyrian International News Agency about the attacks on Christians and churches in Egypt since a military-Islamist junta took over the nation

About 10 percent of Egypt’s 82 million residents are Christians, mostly of the Coptic faith, a tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of Christianity and the Aramaic/Assyrian roots of Jesus.

With Islamists on the march in Egypt, the Muslim mobs are acting with impunity toward this religious minority unimaginable during the days of secular strongman Hosni Mubarak.

The Egyptian army, now in a power-sharing arrangement with leading Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has promised to protect the Christians, but killings and church burnings have been on the rise.

Now, Christians have taken to the streets to defend their churches and the clashes are disrupting the uneasy peace in Cairo.