Obama, Republicans spar over gasoline prices

NASHUA, New Hampshire Thu Mar 1, 2012 6:15pm EST

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a chart showing declining U.S. dependence on foreign oil as he speaks about energy during a visit to Nashua Community College in Nashua, New Hampshire March 1, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a chart showing declining U.S. dependence on foreign oil as he speaks about energy during a visit to Nashua Community College in Nashua, New Hampshire March 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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NASHUA, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Facing intensifying election-year attacks over rising gasoline prices, President Barack Obama sought to shift the spotlight onto oil and gas companies on Thursday by pushing for the repeal of U.S. tax breaks that benefit the industry.

Obama's speech in New Hampshire, in the backyard of leading Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, was part of a White House strategy to blunt a campaign by Republicans to blame a spike in energy prices on the president's energy policies.

With the issue posing a potential threat to Obama's re-election prospects in November, his administration has been at pains to say it is doing everything it can to bring down costs, even as it stresses that the market-driven price rises are largely beyond its control.

"I've directed my administration to look for every single area where we can make an impact and help consumers, from helping to relieve bottlenecks ... to what's going on in the oil markets," Obama said. "And we will keep announcing as many steps as we can in the coming weeks."

Global oil prices have been rising sharply because of stronger demand from the United States, India and China and worries about supply disruptions from Iran. There are rising tensions between the major OPEC producer and western nations over the aims of its nuclear program.

That has caused pain at the pump for Americans, who have now endured more than a month of gasoline price rises, and sparked fears that prices could rise even further, from an average cost of $3.74 a gallon now to up to $5 this summer.

"Anyone who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about, or isn't telling you the truth," Obama said, hitting back at criticism from the campaign trail and from Republicans in Congress.

ROMNEY SAYS OBAMA TO BLAME

But Republicans say the president has hobbled domestic oil exploration and dismiss his administration's observation that U.S. oil output is at a record high, arguing this was thanks to the action of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.

Romney, speaking in Fargo, North Dakota, accused Obama of trying to "blow one past folks" with his argument about increased domestic production, and said the administration does not deserve credit for that.

"Far from taking credit, he should be hanging his head and taking a little bit of the blame for what's going on today," Romney said.

Speaking at a community college in Nashua, Obama pushed again for Congress to repeal $4 billion in subsidies to the oil industry, calling it a "giveaway" that should be redirected to bolster alternative energy sources, including wind, solar and batter power.

Obama has targeted the oil and gas industry in populist speeches in which he portrays himself as the defender of Americans against huge energy corporations "making record profits off us right now."

He dismissed the "phony promises" of his opponents to lower gas prices, and highlighted his administration's investments in clean energy technologies to help reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

But Obama remains vulnerable to criticism from Republicans for having rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which was to transport Canadian oil through environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska on the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

On Monday, the White House said it welcomed a fresh proposal by TransCanada to build a southern leg of the pipeline and refile an application for the northern part of the route, including the U.S.-Canada border crossing.

A number of leading Democrats in Congress have pushed the Obama administration to tap reserve oil supplies, known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), to help bring down gas prices, a move that Republican lawmakers oppose.

The White House has so far avoided commenting on the issue. On Thursday, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, told reporters it did not appear to him "that the president believes using SPR would have any meaningful effect on gas prices."

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Samson Reiny in Washington and Sam Youngman in Fargo, North Dakota; Writing by Caren Bohan and Laura MacInnis; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Comments (11)
rasputyn wrote:
Repeal of tax breaks for the OIL industry? ABOUT time he broke with his Bush III image.

Mar 01, 2012 2:17pm EST  --  Report as abuse
anotherview wrote:
One remedy: Nationalize oil production and distribution, like in other countries, in order to bring prices more in line with costs, instead of prices reflecting the seller’s concept of “Whatever the traffic will bear.” The capitalistic manipulation of oil price will moderate. The price of gasoline at the pump will drop.

Mar 01, 2012 2:39pm EST  --  Report as abuse
katinaw wrote:
ya know the gas prices where going down and people like me and my family were accually starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel then the prices start jumping not creeping they jumped the government and the men who want to get into office keep saying they can fix it or they are working on it but really all they are doing is telling the people what they want to hear why not stop talking about it and do something in the mean time people like me that live pay check to pay check go further in the hole and eventually loose there homes again i tell you being homeless with kids is not fun so for the rich people stop getting richer off the little people because once we are broke again we will have no money or jobs or homes to keep you rich give us a brake leave us alone we are poor enough

Mar 01, 2012 3:24pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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