Oil companies usually hate taxes on their products. But as President Clinton worked on a broad-based energy tax, two large petroleum firms signed on as eager cheerleaders.
They are British Petroleum Co. and Shell Oil Co.. Both are foreign-controlled, and perhaps they understand something that Clinton's know-it-all advisers do not.They know that an energy tax will spread like a vast miasma over the American economy, raising costs and lowering competitiveness. And, not coincidentally, helping the foreigners' home industries.
One of America's great advantages in international trade is energy prices lower than in Europe and Japan. Is that why they constantly preach that the United States must curb its energy consumption, preferably through taxes?
Washington fanciers of the energy tax reject the foreign-benefit idea. They point out that Atlantic Richfield Co., an American firm, was an early supporter of Clinton's economic package.
But Atlantic Richfield is a special case. It owns an enormous amount of heavy crude oil in Alaska, and it is frightened by another levy mulled by the administration: A tax on the heat content of fuel, as measured by British thermal units.
Atlantic Richfield's heavy crude sells for less than lighter crudes that are more profitable to refine. But it is higher in BTUs. If the company can get in good with the Clintonites, it hopes its BTU concerns will be heard.
Oil insiders say the administration is playing a brand of hardball that has not been seen since the heavy-handed days of Lyndon Johnson.
Industry executives are being told: You can support the tax or you can keep quiet about it. But if you oppose it, your access will be cut off and when you have problems don't expect any help from us.
Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen was a dear friend of the oil companies when he was a senator from Texas. Now he is one of Clinton's enforcers.
Bentsen plans to praise "good" companies like British Petroleum, Atlantic Richfield and Shell for seeing the light on Clintonomics. He also plans to denounce companies such as Exxon Corp. and Mobil Corp. for opposing the tax.
The Treasury secretary may not recall that when Richard Nixon kept his notorious "enemies list," the Texas senator thought it was reprehensible and undemocratic. Now he is drafting, in effect, a list of friendly and hostile businesses.
As a new president whose party controls the Congress, Clinton will get his energy tax. And jobs will start to disappear in coal mines, airlines, railroads, trucking, farming (a large user of energy), petrochemicals, plastics, etc.
And, of course, the vast revenues taken in will be spent wisely and well by the federal leviathan.