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What can really be done about gas prices?

The anger over gas prices is palpable nationwide, but is there really a quick fix? NBC Chief Financial Correspondent Anne Thompson offers a reality check.

The first idea to ease the pump pressure comes from President Bush. He wants to delay filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to put more oil on the market, because, as he said Tuesday to the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington, “every little bit helps.” 

“Every little bit does help,” oil analyst Phil Flynn says, “but it doesn’t get any littler than this.”

Flynn says the move would add only 15,000 barrels a day — a drop in the bucket compared to the almost 21 million barrels a day we use.

It’s a perceived change of heart from what candidate Bush said about the reserve in 2000.

“It should not be used for short-term political gain at the cost of long-term national security,” said Bush on Sept. 21, 2000.

“The Bush administration is going to try to do anything it can, even if it's a psychological gesture to the market,” says Flynn.

Should the government break up the big oil companies to bring down prices?

“This did not happen when there were 15 or 20 oil companies because you'd find good old-fashioned American competition would work,” says Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

In 1998, there were 11 major oil companies. After six mergers, today, there are five. But experts say the cry to break up these behemoths ignores the reality that the U.S. imports two-thirds of its oil — and these companies have little control over price.

Market manipulation is what the Federal Trade Commission is investigating, but prior investigations found no evidence of price-fixing or collusion. Still, even when the answer isn't what some expect, the FTC says the probe matters.

“I think it's important to determine for the American consumer whether illegal conduct is taking place,” says the FTC’s Jeffrey Schmidt, “and that's exactly what we intend to do.”

The ideas address supply, lack of competition and perceived price gouging, but experts say not one by itself will cure the pain American drivers are enduring.