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Obama pushes for crackdown on oil price manipulation

President Obama introduced a new round of measures that he said would make it easier for the administration to crack down on oil market manipulation amid persistently high gas prices.

“Today we're announcing new steps to strengthen oversight of energy markets,” Obama said, noting how continued high gas prices have made it hard for families to do things like commute and go to the grocery store.

Most of the new measures would require congressional approval, including a request for more “cops on the beat” for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, as well as more money to update the commission’s technology.

Obama compared the expanding energy market to professional football, which adds more referees if it adds more teams. “Imagine if the NFL quadrupled the number of teams but didn't increase the number of refs. You'd end up having havoc on the field and it would diminish the game. It wouldn't be fair.”

The president also asked Congress to increase the maximum penalties for market manipulators and raise the amount of money required for oil futures traders to back up their trades.

“Congress should do all of this right away,” Obama said, criticizing Senate Republicans for voting down a bill in March that would have stripped oil companies of $24 billion in tax subsidies (four Democrats - Jim Webb of Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Begich of Alaska – also voted against the bill).

He said that Congress’ approval of the steps announced today would be “a chance to make amends” after rejecting the oil subsidy bill. 

The president did announce one measure that does not require approval from Congress: an executive order that will increase data the data shared between the administration’s Council of Economic Advisers and the CFTC on energy market trading.

Senior administration officials today would not estimate how much of an impact these new regulations would have on oil prices or how much speculative activity they would curtail, but said that the measures would boost consumer confidence that prices at the pump were not being influenced by market manipulation.

Before Obama spoke in the Rose Garden, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that the president already had all the tools available to enforce oil market regulations through the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission.

“So instead of just another political gimmick, why doesn't he put his administration to work to get to the bottom of it,” Boehner said during a briefing with reporters Tuesday morning.