By Christy Goldfuss, Public Lands Project Director at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
For freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R-LA), record pay for oil CEOs as Americans suffer from surging gas prices is the realization of the American Dream. According to an AP analysis, the pay package for ConocoPhillips’ top executive, Jim Mulva, went up by 25 percent last year to $17.9 million, money sucked from taxpayer subsidies and drivers’ wallets. “Mulva was paid a $1.5 million salary, stock awards of $6.2 million and option awards worth $5.7 million. He also received perks of $294,000, including the personal use of company cars and aircraft, life insurance premiums and medical services.”
In a House Natural Resources Hearing last week, Landry had a remarkable exchange with Michael J. Fox (a lobbyist for gas station owners, not the actor). Pressed on Big Oil’s supposedly low profit margins, Fox pointed out that Exxon CEO Lee Raymond’s retirement package was “$450 million dollars for doing a 90 hour job,” and the service station retailer gets paid $60,000 for doing a 90 hour job. Landry responded by claiming that’s just the American Dream, and that Big Oil executives must be smarter and better than everyone else, including small business owners:
LANDRY: But isn’t that what America is all about, about that American dream, about that kid who might not have it real good and grows up in a poor family and works his way to the top, and shouldn’t he be able to make as much money as he possibly can and work as less hours as he possibly can, if he’s that smart and that good? Should we destroy the American dream to put your equation into play here?
FOX: He’s not “that smart” or “that good.”
Rep. Landry’s equation for the American dream includes $4 billion dollars a year in taxpayer subsidies to corporations that continue to make record profits. Over the past decade, the big five oil companies – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell – made nearly $1 trillion in profits. The companies had record profits in 2008, which was the same year that oil reached all-time high of $147 per barrel (USA Today link). In 2009, ExxonMobil did not pay any federal taxes, because of all the federal help it received.
The oil and gas industry spent $146 million lobbying Congress last year, including $87,450 to Landry’s campaign, making oil and gas his largest single industry contributor. Mr. Landry and his Republican allies have voted unanimously to protect the oil and gas subsidies. For most, the American Dream means working hard, playing by the rules, and achieving success, not on the backs of other hardworking taxpaying citizens.
FOX: I have a problem when you make a comparison that ExxonMobil’s profits are about 7 to 8 percent and you say a gasoline retailer’s profits are 7 or 8 percent. And you compare those two and say I’m complaining about it. What I’m complaining about is how you got down to 7 to 8 percent, was to pay the CEO $450 million dollars for doing a 90 hour job and the service station retailer gets paid $60,000 for doing it. And the CEO has a private jet and flies that sheik from OPEC here . . .
LANDRY: But isn’t that what America is all about, about that American dream, about that kid who might not have it real good who maybe grows up in a poor family and works his way to the top, and shouldn’t he be able to make as much money as he possibly can and work as less hours as he can, if he’s that smart and that good? I mean, should we destroy the American dream to put your equation into, into play here? I mean, I don’t know. Just answer yes or no.
FOX: I can’t.
LANDRY: Okay. Let me . . .
FOX: He’s not “that smart” or “that good”!
LANDRY: Oh, really. Okay. Well. Uh. Hmm. Okay.