Rep. Joe Barton’s Strange War on CITGO

There is a mad dog Texas Congressman, Joe Barton, who does not like Venezuela’s CITGO providing discount gas to America’s poor. Joe Barton is Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and he is demanding that Felix Rodriguez (President of CITGO) reveal details about discounted heating oil. This program was initiated by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in 2005.

In Barton’s own words: “What we are opposed to and concerned about is…an oil company that’s nationalized, that’s owned by a government, and that government is controlled by an individual like Mr. Chavez of Venezuela and that they use their oil for political purposes. … It does appear that the president of Venezuela is using it for political purposes in the United States…”

This is not the first time Joe Barton has badgered people over documents, hoping to find compromising information. In 2005, Barton challenged scientists measuring global warming, insisting that they list “all financial support you have received related to your research.” Barton, you see, is skeptical of global warming even though the North Pole is melting quickly. It might be more accurate to say that the top industries supporting Joe Barton’s most recent election included electric utilities and oil and gas.

Of course, Joe Barton is a complicated man. After the Katrina hurricane, Barton told Mississippi’s Governor that “Whatever you need from the federal government … we’ll do everything we can to make it happen sooner rather than later and bigger rather than smaller.” Then, Barton was one of only 11 House members to vote against the Hurricane Katrina Emergency Relief bill! The next day!

Barton claimed to have voted against Katrina relief because there was little oversight of the spending. But in 2002, Barton inserted provisions in the energy bill to allow Westar Energy, a near-bankrupt company, to increase rates to cover the company’s non-utility debt.

Barton, a close ally of now-disgraced Congressman Tom DeLay (under indictment) is also a champion of the tobacco industry: “Our founding fathers, many of them grew tobacco If they knew we were trying to regulate one of the first cash crops that made our nation independent, I don’t think they would appreciate that.”

Barton’s war on CITGO demonstrates that Congress has been sold to the highest bidder. Arianna Huffington, in Pigs at the Trough, put it well. “The sad truth is that we’ve produced a mandarin class in this country; a special breed of swine that feeds on the handouts from corporate America and in turn does its bidding in the corridors of power.”

ANDREW BOSWORTH can be reached at: