Congress Shows True Colors...Again

Todd Shriber
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After Thursday's congressional grilling of BP (BP) CEO Tony Hayward, any questions regarding why Americans have such a low opinion of their elected representatives should have been answered. I don't know exactly what the approval rating for Congress is, but I do know it is a number that would look good as a score for nine holes of golf. In other words, voters are not impressed and who could blame them?

There are certain things in life that are predictable. We all know the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. That is predictable and that is a good thing. The melodramatic ineptitude of Congress when it comes to hearings involving executives from major companies, regardless of industry, is far too predictable and worse yet, it is complete waste of time for all involved except for the representatives performing these mind-numbing inquisitions.

I have mentioned before in this space what I think the biggest problem with Congressional inquisitions of giant companies is. It is not the uninformed bluster. It is not the pandering to voters, which is amplified because this is an election year. The biggest problem is that all the political posturing and vitriol aimed at whatever executives are sitting before the congressional firing squad is that the hearings never lead to results. The Enron hearings did not prevent further creation and manipulation of opaque financial instruments. The Toyota hearings have not and will not prevent auto recalls in the future.

This week alone, in addition to BP, executives from Exxon Mobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX), ConocoPhillips (COP) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDS-A) have been trotted out to the Hill. Add it all up and we have the three largest U.S. oil companies and the two largest European oil producers testifying before Congress and little in the way of answers.

Worse yet, since these hearings have been short on tangible results, there will be another oil spill someday. It may not be of magnitude of the Gulf spill, and let's hope it is not, but another spill is going to happen and if it happens on U.S. soil or in U.S. territorial waters, Congress is going to need to look in the mirror rather than point fingers.

Congressional hearings, particularly the more controversial ones, often take on the appearance of stern parents (Congress) scolding petulant children (company executives). In this case, perception is not reality. Today, the Energy & Commerce Committee, no worse than the third-most important House committee, proved to be a co-ed fraternity, hooting and hollering, garnering negative attention and acting like children themselves. Answers, results and Congress in the same sentence? Forget about it.