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Americans spread blame for high gas prices, foresee $4.75 a gallon

Americans foresee, on average, gas prices at $4.75 a gallon within three months, shows a Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll. They most blame the oil industry and Wall Street. But they expect politicians to act.

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"You need a sustained, comprehensive policy to insulate ourselves from these kinds of fluctuations in the oil market in the future," said White House spokesman Jay Carney at a press briefing last week. "There are options that do exist that [the president] will continue to examine. But anyone who suggests that there's a single action that you can take as a politician and candidate or a member of Congress that will suddenly reduce the price of oil, and therefore the price of gas at the pump, is blowing hot air."

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In response, the Republicans have dogged the Democrats' agenda at nearly every turn by questioning how their proposals will affect gas prices.

Just before a Democratic conference call Thursday on the so-called Buffett rule, an Obama proposal that would enforce a minimum tax rate on high-income taxpayers, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in an e-mailed statement, "[t]his is yet another proposal from Democrats that won’t create a single job or lower the price at the pump by a penny, but may have the opposite effect. Just as with their proposal to raise taxes on American energy manufacturers and increase the cost of energy, this is yet another sign that they’re out of ideas and simply focused on tax hike show-votes."

Congressional Democrats, for their part, have put forward policy proposals that seize on blame for oil companies and financiers. The "show vote" derided by Senator McConnell was a Senate Democratic effort to pass a bill ending tax breaks for the five largest international oil companies. While garnering 51 votes, the measure fell short of the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster. Four Democrats voted against the measure.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California, moreover, has frequently discussed the role of Wall Street speculation in rising oil prices. Ms. Pelosi kicked off a House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing Wednesday on Wall Street speculation's effect on oil prices by ruminating on "The Agony and the Ecstasy," a 1960s novel about the Italian master Michelangelo.

Pelosi said high gas prices make her consider "the agony of our consumers for the price at the pump and what that means to them. Especially people who are having trouble making ends meet and how the high-cost at the pump is really an obstacle to them," Pelosi said. "The agony is for them. The ecstasy is for Big Oil."

But to continue Pelosi's literary pondering, could the gas price debate turn out to be much ado about nothing?

Americans have consistently told pollsters that fuel costs hammer them in their wallets no matter the price. More than 6 in 10 say they suffer at the pump at pretty much every price point. In April 2006, 69 percent of drivers polled by CNN/ORC said gas prices had caused them financial hardship. The expectation for summer pump prices that year? $2.62 per gallon. In March, 71 percent of Americans told CNN/ORC the same, even as gas prices nosed up against $4 nationwide. The lowest reading in the intervening years? Sixty percent.

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