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Behind logjam over economic remedies, a values divide in D.C.

Bush and Democrats in Congress disagree on how much onus to put on individuals vs. financial, energy industries

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The president says that purchases for the SPR account for only 0.1 percent of global demand. "I don't think that's going to affect price when you affect 0.1 percent," Bush said in his press briefing on Tuesday. "And I do believe it is in our national interest to get the [reserve] filled, in case there is a major disruption of crude oil around the world."

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But at least 15 Republicans joined Democrats this week in calling for an immediate halt of deposits of domestic crude oil into the SPR. Democrats now say they have enough votes to override a presidential veto on this issue.

On a more conciliatory note, the president said he was open to proposals to drop the federal 18.4 cent gas tax this summer – an idea backed by presidential contenders Sens. Hillary Clinton (D) of New York and John McCain (R) of Arizona. "If it's a good idea, we embrace it," he said. Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois, who opposes the plan, says it will save drivers the cost of a half a tank of gasoline at most.

Democrats quickly rejected White House calls to open ANWR for oil and gas exploration. "It's well known on both sides that it will take eight to 10 years before any oil could be produced in ANWR," says Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) of New Mexico, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Democrats are urging energy efficiency and a price-gouging bill, so that the big oil companies can't collude. "There's too much speculation in the markets, and we believe that ought to be reined in," said Senator Schumer, chair of the Joint Economic Committee.

But it’s the need for student loans that gave Congress and the White House their first breakthrough agreement. The president wants to give the federal government temporary authority purchase federal student loans to help ease a credit crunch. A house bill sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D) of California, which passed the House on April 17 by a vote of 383-27, “we think can do the job,” the president said. The Senate passed an amended version of this bill by unanimous consent on Wednesday. The Senate bill expands eligibility to some 100,000 additional students. [Editor's note: The original version was written before the Senate vote