Bush, Kerry clashover gas prices

/ Source: The Associated Press

Americans would not be paying high prices for gasoline if the Congress had passed President Bush’s proposed energy package three years ago, a White House spokesman said Tuesday as the administration faced criticism from Democratic rival John Kerry.

In a thinly veiled criticism of Kerry, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, “Some have advocated higher gas taxes. ... The president remains firmly opposed to increasing gas taxes.”

The Bush campaign has accused Kerry of proposing a 50-cent a gallon gas tax increase. Kerry was quoted once as mentioning the idea but has since repudiated it.

Kerry said Tuesday that as president he would stop pumping oil into the nation’s emergency stockpile until prices fell and would pursue new energy policies because “no young American in uniform ought to ever be held hostage to America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East.”

As Bush’s campaign unveiled a television ad that criticized the Massachusetts senator’s record on gas taxes, Kerry responded by portraying the White House as tied to the oil industry.

“Instead of revealing a new set of attack ads, I think Dick Cheney ought to reveal who the oil executives are that he met in secret with to set the oil policy of the United States,” Kerry said during a rally at the University of California, San Diego.

Kerry said he would pressure the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to provide more oil, simplify rules on gas to reduce costs, and develop more energy-efficient vehicles.

“We deserve an administration that doesn’t fake it to the American people and pretend that somehow by drilling in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge we can deal with the problems of America,” he said. “We can’t provide the supply of oil America needs from the Alaska Wildlife Refuge or from any other source in the United States because we only have 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves.”

Kerry called on Bush to halt filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, which some Democrats contend drives up the cost of fuel for U.S. consumers in an already tight market with record prices. Gasoline prices reached a national average of $1.80 a gallon in the past two weeks, according to the private Lundberg Survey.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday the administration opposed using supplies from the reserve because independent analysts have concluded the impact on prices would be minor and that it is important to have necessary resources in case of a severe disruption in supplies.

McClellan blamed high prices on the failure of Congress to approve Bush’s energy proposals in 2001. At the time, Republicans from Bush’s party controlled the House and Democrats held a slim majority in the Senate.

New Bush ad
The Bush campaign released a television ad contending that Kerry has backed higher gasoline taxes 11 times and has supported a 50-cent-per-gallon tax increase that would cost the average family $657 a year. The ad, titled “Wacky,” casts Kerry’s policies as a silent-movie comedy recalling the antics of the Keystone Kops.

An examination of the votes shows that several were procedural Senate votes while others were cast for former President Clinton’s economic stimulus package that included a 4.3-cent per gallon gas tax increase that was meant to reduce the deficit.

Bush’s campaign argues that if Kerry had his way, gasoline prices would be even higher. Vice President Cheney said in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Monday that Kerry once supported a 50-cent-per-gallon increase in gasoline taxes. Kerry mentioned such an increase in a newspaper interview but has never offered legislation for such a tax. He has since rejected the idea.

Current gasoline prices are at record levels in constant dollars, but not when inflation is taken into account. Using today’s dollar, motorists paid the equivalent of $2.90 a gallon in March
1981, the government has said.

Typically high demand during summer could drive prices even higher, although they could drop as demand eases going into the fall when Americans are most paying attention to the election.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told a Senate hearing last week that diverting 150,000 barrels of oil a day into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve “is fairly negligible” in a global oil market of 86 million barrels a day. Filling the oil reserve with 55 million barrels to reach its maximum 700 million barrels was “a critical national security objective,” he said.

OPEC meets Wednesday
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are to meet in Vienna on Wednesday to reconsider a planned 1 million barrel cut in production scheduled to begin this week.

McClellan said the administration has been in regular contact with major oil producing countries to stress the importance of letting the market determine the prices of oil.

“What we need are comprehensive solutions, not patchwork crisis management,” the spokesman said.

“We wouldn’t be in this situation right now if Congress had acted on what the president had proposed three years ago,” he said.

When Bush took office, Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. By midyear, the Democrats had a narrow majority in the Senate, but the GOP was in charge in the House.

McClellan said the administration was “doing everything we can to address the issues that might contribute to rising gas prices.” The administration has said it is looking for price gouging and other improper price manipulation.