Elections 2012: President Obama and Republicans Spar Over Gas Prices

People who claim a lack of oil drilling is to blame for spiking gasoline prices are either dumb or dishonest, President Barack Obama argued Thursday as Democrats ramped up their defense against Republicans claiming just that.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the economy at Nashua Community College in Nashua, N.H., March 1, 2012. The president used a diagram to illustrate the decline in U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

Facing intensifying election-year attacks over rising gasoline prices, President Barack Obama sought to shift the spotlight onto oil and gas companies on Thursday by pushing for the repeal of U.S. tax breaks that benefit the industry, reports Reuters.

Obama’s speech in New Hampshire, in the backyard of leading Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, was part of a White House strategy to blunt a bid by Republicans to blame a spike in energy prices on the president’s energy policies.

“Anybody who tells you that we can just drill our way out of this problem does not know what they’re talking about, or they’re not telling you the truth — one or the other,” Obama said at an event held in New Hampshire to tout his energy policies.

According to The Huff Post, he noted that, in fact, oil production in the United States has hit its highest level in eight years, that more rigs are operating in the U.S. than in the rest of the world combined, that more than 400 drilling permits have been granted since the massive BP oil spill, and that for the first time in 13 years, oil imports account for less than half of all U.S. oil consumption.

“And no matter what you hear from some folks in an election year, the key part of this strategy over the last three years has been to increase safe, responsible oil production here at home, while also pursuing clean energy for the future,” Obama added.

Global oil prices have been rising sharply because of stronger demand from the United States, India and China and worries about supply disruptions from Iran. There are rising tensions between the major OPEC producer and western nations over the aims of its nuclear program.

That has caused pain at the pump for Americans, who have now endured more than a month of gasoline price rises, and sparked fears that prices could rise even further, from an average cost of $3.74 a gallon now to up to $5 this summer.

Republicans, who launched a coordinated assault on the administration over gas prices earlier this week, kept up the drumbeat on Thursday.

“American families and small businesses continue to struggle, and they’re especially feeling the impact of rising gas prices, which have doubled under President Obama,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters in his weekly briefing.

Republicans say the president has hobbled domestic oil exploration and dismiss his administration’s observation that U.S. oil output is at a record high, arguing this was thanks to the action of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.

Mitt Romney, speaking in Fargo, North Dakota, accused Obama of trying to “blow one past folks” with his argument about increased domestic production, and said the administration does not deserve credit for that.

“Far from taking credit, he should be hanging his head and taking a little bit of the blame for what’s going on today,” Romney said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried a different angle in the Democratic pushback, suggesting that the top driver of gas prices right now is not supply but aggressive speculation in oil markets. She pointed to blocked efforts by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to stop such speculation, which the CFTC estimates adds more than 50 cents a gallon to the price of gas.

“What’s happening about the price at the pump is very interesting,” Pelosi said in her weekly press conference. “Supply is going up, demand is going down, and the price is going up,” she said, referring to recent data to that effect.

“So how do you explain that?” Pelosi asked. “You explain it by recognizing that Republicans are protecting Wall Street speculators responsible for driving up the pain at the pump.”

Speaking at a community college in Nashua, Obama pushed again for Congress to repeal $4 billion in subsidies to the oil industry, calling it a “giveaway” that should be redirected to bolster alternative energy sources, including wind, solar and batter power.

Obama has targeted the oil and gas industry in populist speeches in which he portrays himself as the defender of Americans against huge energy corporations “making record profits off us right now.”

He dismissed the “phony promises” of his opponents to lower gas prices, and highlighted his administration’s investments in clean energy technologies to help reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

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