Obama and GOP Make Gas Prices Political Football
March 21, 2012
Capitalizing on a more treacherous election-year atmosphere, President Barack Obama and his GOP critics have tried to turn rising gas prices into political hay. Unable to control Big Oil’s periodic money binges, the president finds himself in quicksand trying to contain voters’ discontent. While the economy shows a pulse, unemployment heading down and federal budget deficits shrinking, the oil industry rains on Obama’s parade. Rising pump prices hurt just about everyone but especially struggling consumers for whom high prices serve as another punitive tax. Obama’s GOP critics would like to pin his Jan. 20 veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline as causing oil and gas prices to rise. With unleaded regular hitting $3.86 nationwide, CBS News and New York Times found that 54% of U.S. voters believe the president can do something about rising gas prices.
Since the first of the year, the 20% run-up in pump prices have been blamed on everything but the kitchen sink. First, supply issues because of temporary refinery shut-downs in Philadelphia. Next, rising demand in China and India. Then, growing tensions over Iran’s nuclear program in the Persian Gulf. Now, Obama’s refusal to rubber stamp the Keystone XL Pipeline. Ultimately, gas prices rise when the nation’s oil and gas monopoly decide it’s time to set record profits. Rising oil prices account for a negligible part of rising pump prices but a whopping share of the excuse used to justify price hikes. Whether Democrat or Republican, both parties pussyfoot around when it comes to reining in Big Oil. Not since President Jimmy Carter was in office in 1977 has the country had a windfall profits tax, siphoning off excessive oil industry profits to help reduce pump prices.
When Obama vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline Jan. 20, slated to bring crude oil 1,700 miles from Western Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries, he gave the oil industry a new excuse to raise prices. Whether green-lighting the project would have held down gas prices is anyone’s guess. GOP presidential frontrunner former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney often blames Obama, his Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson for today’s high gas prices. “Calling them the “gas hike trio,” Romney likes to divert attention away from Big Oil, whose gas-price war on consumers continues unabated. “Instead of paying two-digit dollars, you’re paying three digits,” said former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), hoping to score some cheap political points. Santorum urges Obama to permit more oil leases in the Mexican Gulf.
Speaking in Indianapolis in 2008, Obama blamed past run-ups in pump prices on oil lobbyists inside the Beltway. Realizing the political price, Barack now plans to revise a 485-mile part of the Keystone XL project from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, helping to unblock the current bottleneck in Cushing. “It’s a PR stunt and Oklahomans aren't buying it—the president is celebrating his failed energy policies in a community that will be hardest hit by them,” said Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), pointing fingers at Obama. Instead of focusing on alternative energy, Obama should be auditing the oil industry’s books when it posts record profits in the second quarter. If the president were to inform voters about the arbitrary way Big Oil reaps obscene profits, there’d be more pressure on the industry to control its greed. Blaming alternative energy is just another smokescreen.
Green-lighting all or part of the Keystone, approving more rigs in the Gulf or drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge won’t stop Big Oil from gouging at the pumps. When the U.S. banks ran out of cash and economy was at its darkest in 2007-2008, Big Oil didn’t hesitate to gouge consumers, no matter how it damaged the economy. Because oil as a commodity affects the economy and U.S. national security, the president must draw the line when it comes to letting one industry play havoc on the economy. No one industry should be allowed to profit mightily at the expense of the economy. Obama must do more to educate the public about Big Oil’s record profits and pressure the industry to act responsibly. Whether or not Barack can make a difference, if he speaks openly about the oil industry’s penchant for profits over good citizenship, it could make a difference.
Big Oil’s stranglehold on U.S. consumers and overall economy can only be changed by the president’s constant pressure to act responsibly. “Is there a lot that can be done in the short-term that can have a huge impact? The answer is no,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former domestic policy advisor to former President Bill Clinton. “I don’t think a posture of simply saying that and being the voice of responsibility in a rising political clamor is going to serve the White House politically well,” urging the president to do more. Using the bully pulpit to advocate for consumers and whipping Big Oil into acting responsibly would show voters the president is at least trying to reduce pump prices. Doing nothing or saying there’s nothing that can be done will ultimately backfire on the president. No president should let Big Oil gouge consumers without at least talking about it.
Home || Articles || Books || The Teflon Report || Reactions || About Discobolos
Discobolos Consulting Services, Inc.