Republicans turn up heat on Obama over oil prices

WASHINGTON Wed Apr 27, 2011 12:59pm EDT

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner announces a budget deal in the Capitol in Washington April 8, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner announces a budget deal in the Capitol in Washington April 8, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Photo

Under the Iron Dome

Sirens sound as rockets land deep inside Israel.  Slideshow 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With Americans upset about rising gasoline prices, Republicans in Congress aim to fix the blame on one person when they return next week from recess: President Barack Obama.

Congress wrapped up its last work session on April 15 with Democrats and Republicans in a blistering debate about budget deficits and the size of the federal government.

Now, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives aim to pivot to another hot-button issue: high gasoline prices that are hitting consumers who are already struggling to recover from a prolonged economic downturn.

"Running on empty: Obama administration does nothing to address skyrocketing gas prices," screamed a press release on Tuesday from House Speaker John Boehner's office.

Obama has entered the energy fray, too, urging oil-producing countries to increase output amid rising prices.

He also asked Congress to end billions of dollars worth of oil industry tax breaks -- money that could be used for deficit-reduction or investing in cleaner alternative energy.

Democrats have long argued that with the major oil companies enjoying healthy profits amid high prices, they no longer need the tax breaks.

For example, even with setbacks related to last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP on Wednesday reported profits of $5.5 billion in the first quarter.

The Republicans' focus on energy comes as the national retail price for regular gasoline has hit $3.88 a gallon, an increase of more than $1 a gallon compared to a year ago.

Gas pump sticker shock could get worse as the looming U.S. summer driving season hikes demand for gasoline and political unrest continues in Middle East oil-producing countries.

All this has U.S. motorists worried that gasoline prices could approach the record-high $4.11 per gallon of July 2008.

Boehner's move to put a bull's eye on gasoline prices also comes as public opinion polls show opposition to Republican initiatives that would further cut taxes for the rich while making senior citizens pay more for health insurance.

A CBS News/New York Times poll, for example, found that 61 percent of people think Medicare coverage for the elderly is worth the costs. Meanwhile, 45 percent said military spending should be cut while only 21 percent favored Medicare cuts.

When Congress resumes next week, the Republican-led House will bring to a vote at least one bill aimed at bolstering domestic energy production.

"As gasoline prices close in on $4 a gallon, that is going to be part of the conversation," said Spencer Pederson, a spokesman for the House Natural Resources Committee.

Doc Hastings, chairman of that committee, is leading Republican efforts to expand U.S. offshore oil drilling and speed up the government's approval process for new projects -- moves that are expected to be blocked by Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate.

'LOST OIL'

The Republicans believe Obama wrongfully stood in the way of offshore oil drilling because of safety concerns following the Gulf of Mexico disaster last April.

Gulf of Mexico oil output will decline by 190,000 barrels per day in 2011, according to Energy Department forecasts.

"That's lost oil on the world market," leading to higher prices, Pederson said. That quantity, however, is only a speck of the estimated 1.52 million barrel per day increase in global demand this year.

The 2012 presidential and congressional elections are 18 months away but they already dominate the Washington dynamic.

In an interview with ABC News on Monday, Boehner predicted Obama would not win a second term if gasoline prices were to rise to $5 or $6 a gallon.

While the White House would quarrel with that assessment, Democrats are worried rising energy prices could undermine the U.S. economic recovery and hurt Obama's re-election chances.

In an interview with a Virginia radio station on Tuesday, Obama said his administration was "talking to oil producers around the world and letting them know it's in their interest to make sure that high oil prices don't end up hurting the world economy."

Senator Charles Schumer, one of the top-ranking Democrats, backed up Obama's call for ending oil company tax breaks, saying: "These subsidies are a relic of a time when oil was $17 per barrel and oil companies needed incentives to drill. That time has long since ended."

Oil prices are now around $112 per barrel.

Obama's request to Congress came after Boehner said that "we should be looking at" the multibillion-dollar subsidies for oil companies and that those companies "ought to be paying their fair share" in taxes.

But by Tuesday, it was less clear whether Boehner really wanted to switch Republican gears and consider pulling the oil company subsidies.

"We'll look at any reasonable policy that lowers gas prices. Unfortunately, what the president has suggested so far would simply raise taxes and increase the price at the pump," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (40)
HelpAmerica wrote:
Republicans do you know how stupid you look talking so loudly
with your books up side down. The president did not loose oil,
he pointed out the technology of the day DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO GET IT>
Yes all governments should take care of their citizens first. Bravo to Obama Care.

Apr 27, 2011 1:46am EDT  --  Report as abuse
tabinnorway wrote:
I agree entirely with the Repugnicans here. This is all the fault of Obama. Now, I don’t know why they start with the oil prices though, that is not the most pressing problem. They should really take him to task over the terrible weather he’s responsible for down in the south.

Are they all morons or are they just playing morons in press releases?

Apr 27, 2011 1:54am EDT  --  Report as abuse
xyz2055 wrote:
Republicans have clearly sided with the richest Americans and the richest companies in America. In another article, Boehner claims that eliminating the tax breaks would hurt production and loss of oil jobs. The breaks where put in place in 2008 to stimulate production and increase jobs. Well, where’s the data that proves that those two things were accomplished. Looking at the number of employees at Exxon Mobil….the number of employees at that company have been virtually the same for the past 7 years. More BS from Boehner et al.

Apr 27, 2011 2:22am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.