Gas Price Panic

Democrats anxious about gas prices while stopping measures to increase long-term supply

February 27, 2012

Worried about the political consequences of higher gas prices, left-wing think tanks and some House Democrats are urging Obama to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, meanwhile, is lashing out at the GOP, oil companies, and the Koch brothers.

The spike in oil prices comes at a bad time for the Obama administration since it recently killed plans for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would bring oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Supporters of the pipeline say it will lessen American’s dependence on foreign energy and create tens of thousands of jobs. Environmentalist argued the plan could create an ecological catastrophe. Obama sided with the environmentalists.

The Canadian firm hoping to build the pipeline will announce Monday plans to push ahead with an extension of the segment of pipeline running from Cushing, Okla., to Port Arthur, Tex. The rest of the project remains in limbo, according to the Washington Post.

Gas prices usually dip in colder months, but in 2012 they have surged.

The average price of regular unleaded was $3.34 over December, January, and February, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The latest figures from AAA show the national average price of gas has spiked to $3.69.

Steve Israel, the chair of the DCCC, told the Washington Post that Democrats should blame Republicans.

"We’ve told our candidates that they should remind people that we’ve actually increased domestic energy production, and talk about solutions-oriented energy policies that would end our catastrophic dependence on foreign oil," Israel said. "We are urging them to hold House Republicans accountable for consistently protecting oil company subsidies."

In an email sent Friday, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina accused Charles and David Koch of the Koch Industries of making millions of dollars by "jacking up prices at the pump." The charges have no basis in fact.

The president for public affairs of Koch Industries, Philip Ellender, charged in a letter Friday that the Obama campaign was trying "to chill free speech and squelch dissent."

Others, meanwhile, are calling for Obama to take measures to lower the price of oil.

Leading Senate Democrat strategist Chuck Schumer of New York wrote a letter urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to press Saudi Arabia to boost its oil output.

The Center for American Progress has begun advocating for Obama to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

"Selling reserve oil on the open market is the one step that we know will reduce oil and gasoline prices in the immediate term," Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress Action Fund told Politico. "Every time we sold reserve oil it has lowered oil and gasoline prices. We know it works."

Three House Democrats—Reps. Ed Markey, Peter Welch and Rosa DeLauro—have joined with CAP in calling for Obama to release fuel from the Reserve.

The president’s campaign insists that the issue is largely out of his hands.

"Oil is a global commodity," campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs said on CNN’s "State of the Union." "It's at the whims of a world using more and more oil and, because of that demand, pushing the price up."

Republicans counter that Obama’s energy policies are responsible for the spike in gas prices.

Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota wrote in a Thursday Politico op-ed that Obama has "systematically discouraged new energy exploration and development," citing the decline in drilling on federal lands and offshore, the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, and restrictive EPA regulations.

"Gasoline prices have already doubled under Obama […] and they are expected to increase even further in 2012, with some predictions suggesting $5 per gallon by the end of May," Thune wrote. "If the president continues to restrict access to domestic energy resources and drive up the cost of production, energy prices will continue to worsen."