Rising gasoline prices represent Republicans’ latest vector of attack on President Obama, as improving economic data make more difficult a head-on assault on the administration’s economic policies.
“Over the past few weeks, the American people have begun to feel the painful effects of President Obama’s energy policy,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday in a statement. “Make no mistake: The rising price of gasoline isn’t simply the result of forces we can’t control.”
The national average for US gasoline prices reached $3.72 on Monday, according to the Energy Information Administration, up more than 3 percent from the prior week and up about 10 percent from a year ago.
What could Mr. Obama do to help, according to GOP leaders? At the top of their agenda is reversing his permit denial for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, a 1,660-mile system that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands to the American Gulf Coast. Other Republican complaints include the need to drill more aggressively in the Gulf of Mexico and to nix regulatory red tape.
But such energy projects would take years to produce any actual oil or gasoline. How would they give Americans relief at the pump in the short term?
House Speaker John Boehner argued Tuesday that a US energy policy that includes a more vigorous approach to production would signal a serious US intent to become more energy independent and, thus, would help drive prices down for consumers.
“The more that we can do to show the American people and show the world that we’re going to move toward energy self-sufficiency, I think that you’ll begin to see prices on the world market coming down,” he said during a briefing, in which House Republicans hammered the president over rising prices at the pump.
Obama’s response to such critiques? “There are no silver bullets short term” for gas prices, he told an audience at the University of Miami last week, during an address on energy policy. America needs to invest in next-generation technologies to help reduce its dependence on oil for the long term, he said.
One reason he's taking hard knocks from the GOP may be that the Republicans' main talking point for the 2012 election – that the Obama plan for the economy doesn’t work – has been undercut somewhat by improving economic data. Indeed, a report Tuesday on American consumer confidence in February showed the public at its most optimistic level in a year, at 70.1. The figure showed a big leap from January's level of 61.5. (As measured by the index, any number over 50 is positive territory for consumer confidence, but the higher the number the greater the level of confidence.)
The national unemployment rate, meanwhile, has fallen from a high of 10 percent in October 2009 to 8.3 percent in January.
Equity markets, too, have been on a tear, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average flirting with a close above the psychologically significant 13000 threshold and the S&P 500 churning upward nearly 9 percent for the year.
“The president says he’s for an all-of-the-above energy plan. I haven’t seen it. Has anyone seen it?” Mr. Boehner chided.
With the economy perking up, Republicans need a way to keep pounding Obama over pocketbook issues – and rapidly rising gasoline prices are the best available hammer.