Washington Extra - Wake-up call

WASHINGTON, March 11 Fri Mar 11, 2011 4:55pm EST

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WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - There is nothing quite like a horrific natural disaster to put things into perspective, and Japan's 8.9 earthquake and devastating tsunami Friday were no different. Before getting down to business, we paused this morning to consider our own fragility, including President Barack Obama, who said he was "heartbroken" by Japan's heavy loss of life.

Against such a stark backdrop, America's high gas prices might seem like a frivolous topic. But, in fact, it is serious -- for Americans whose lifestyle dictates heavy gas consumption and for a president who is under pressure to deliver his people some relief at the gas pumps.

Before Mr. Obama called a press conference to address energy issues, a Reuters-Ipsos poll this week showed that American confidence in the way the country is going slumped to a two-year low and the pollster said soaring gas prices were to blame.

Mr. Obama had a two-pronged message for Americans, who produce 2 percent of the world's oil, but consume 25 percent. As economic recovery and political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa drive up prices, he will do everything possible to stabilize supply and bring oil prices down. But he also used the price shock to remind Americans that they rely too much on oil and need to embrace once and for all the clean energy future. Heck, even the legendary ex-oilman T. Boone Pickens says so. Mr. Obama used Pickens' famous quip to make his point on Friday: "This is one emergency we can't drill our way out of."

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Here are our top stories from Washington today:

Obama vows to dampen fuel prices, calls for reform

The United States must reduce its dependence on oil and reform energy policy, President Obama said, pledging to do all he could to keep gasoline prices low. [ID:nN11126555]

Obama says Gaddafi squeezed, Libyan rebels want more

President Obama said the international community was "tightening the noose" on Muammar Gaddafi, but Libyan rebels said their three-week-old insurrection could fail without a no-fly zone. [ID:nLDE72A00Z]

U.S. readies relief for quake-hit ally Japan

President Obama sent condolences to the people of Japan and said the United States would provide any help its close ally needed after a massive earthquake and tsunami killed hundreds of people. [ID:nN11240635]

Obama: Budget standoff may last beyond next week

President Obama said Democrats and Republicans negotiating government spending bills for this year may not reach a March 18 deadline for resolving their dispute. [ID:nN11154802]

US mortgage settlement proposal likely doomed

A settlement proposal by state attorneys general with the five biggest mortgage servicers stands out less for what it contains than for what it omits -- terms for resolving the most difficult issues dividing regulators and the big banks. [ID:nN11266029]

To see what we are blogging on Front Row Washington, go to blogs.reuters.com/frontrow/

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