updated 5/18/2004 10:38:57 AM ET 2004-05-18T14:38:57

Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe says the Bush administration is “in the pocket of big oil” and isn’t doing enough to hold down fast-rising gasoline prices.

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“The price of gas is up about 50 cents a gallon since George Bush took office,” McAuliffe said in remarks prepared for delivery Tuesday to the Democratic National Committee. “Already that translates to an extra $499 a year for the average American household.”

As part of a coordinated focus by Democrats on the issue, McAuliffe said the threat posed by rising gas prices should have brought an aggressive response from the Bush administration, “but George Bush hasn’t lifted a finger.”

McAuliffe asserted that Bush has not worked for clean, renewable energy that would reduce U.S. dependence on oil imports because Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials have long-standing ties to the industry.

“They’re so deep in the pocket of big oil we’ll need to drill down to find them,” McAuliffe said.

Democrats will spend the rest of the week talking about rising gasoline prices and the effect on local communities.

The presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry also issued a statement saying gas prices had topped $2 for the first time on Monday, also the three-year anniversary of Bush’s energy plan, which is stalled in Congress.

The nationwide average for all gasoline grades, including taxes, was slightly more than $1.96 per gallon just over a week ago, according to a biweekly survey of 8,000 gas stations nationwide.

The Bush campaign has accused Kerry of voting almost a dozen times for tax increases on gasoline. Nine of those cases dealt with the same increase, a 4.3-cents-a-gallon hike enacted in 1993 as part of a deficit-cutting package, according to an analysis of campaign claims by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. The examples cited include a time when Kerry briefly endorsed someone else’s proposal to raise the gas tax by 50 cents. It never came to a vote.

“He’s living in a glass house, because Kerry has advocated gas tax increases throughout his career,” Bush spokesman Terry Holt said of McAuliffe. “If Kerry had his way, gas would cost 50 cents more per gallon than it does.”

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