In their recent condemnation of the oil industry’s consumer rip-off, President Carter and his aides avoided criticizing the principal Congressional engine behind the gigantic gauge — Sen. Russell Long, D.-La. Such avoidance is a tribute to Long’s dominant role in shaping key energy legislation. He is now using his power to require consumers and taxpayers to provide a triple subsidy for the already profit-glutted oil corporations. Long’ is systematically pursuing a strategy that has become a trademark unique among reactionaries in the Congress. In a word, he lines up the conservatives and buys up the liberals.
As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and champion of the oil industry, Long. wants laws which will (1) give domestic oil and gas producers a monopoly price equivalent to the OPEC cartel price; (2) divert new taxes on oil into an energy subsidy corporation for the oil industry; and (3)) require taxpayers to further subsidize energy bills of people who cannot afford to pay the industry’s exploitative prices.
Already the Congress has appropriated $200 million this year for utilities which were having .difficultly collecting from, their overcharged customers.
ONLY LONG COULD ever dream of achieving this triple subsidy by confiscating the consumer and nationalizing the taxpayer. Backed by the awesome power of the oil conglomerates, Long sits astride the Finance Committee which has jurisdiction over tax, Social Security, health insurance, energy welfare, and some unemployment issues. Those matters give Long much leverage to wheel and deal.
Such a powerful chairmanship leaves Long with few open critics. Certainly the Carter Administration is keeping private its fulminations against the senator. And liberal senators on the committee, with few exceptions avoid challenging Long in return for his giving them a few minor concessions.
Back home, the Louisiana media rarely examine Long’s performance critically, in part because he has shown how profitable it is for them to identify Louisiana almost exclusively with the oil industry. Yet, most Louisianans neither work for the oil industry nor escape as consumers the prices and pollution of the oil companies.
The Washington and New York media have generally treated Long far more superficially than they would have treated a comparably positioned senator from the East. Long’s wealth and investments in oil and gas represent a classic conflict of interest. Regularly as senator he pushes measures that will enrich him as oil millionaire. But, because he openly admits his espousal of petroleum’s crassest interests, he transcends of petroleum’s crassest interests, he transcends corruption merely by flouting it before the press.
Long’s political syllogism is’ simple: since Louisiana is oil, and Long is Louisiana, then Long must be oil.
A LOOK AT Long’s voting record, however, indicates that a far more embracing philosophy guides his behavior. His record points consistently in the direction of forging an ever-tighter corporate state. He is always finding ways to turn Washington and small taxpayers into funding mechanisms for industrial corporations, a kind of ever-growing corporate welfare.
No advocate of countervailing powers in the economy, Long strives for just the opposite — laws that will permit corporations to co-opt government and labor. As a corollary he opposes all legislation that will give consumers and taxpayers the power to defend their rights from the encroachment of corporations and their governmental allies.
For example, his votes are consistently against reform of corporate tax and equities, against regulatory reform that will open government to citizens, against consumer and environmental justice, and for business subsidy after business subsidy after business subsidy.
Long came to the Senate almost 30 years ago loaded with populist rhetoric. He still manages to squeeze out some of these words to keep the progressives in the Senate off-balance. But essentially Long is a corporatist with a corn-pone exterior who is never more effective than when confronted by liberals who think they are smarter than he is.
Symbolic of Long’s preeminence as architect of the corporate state was his recent invitation to Nelson Rockefeller to testify before the Finance Committee. The senator lavishly praised the former Vice-President for his 1975proposal to establish a $100 billion’ energy development corporation and added that he wanted a similar taxpayer slush fund for the energy corporations to be set up under the Carter Administration. Symbolic indeed. It was almost as if Rockefeller were passing the baton to Long, saying, ‘Carry on, Russell.
Biographers, reporters and commentators who wish to illuminate the intricate paths of corporate power in our political economy could do worse than turn their attention to the Senior Senator from Louisiana.