- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004


It’s the presidential campaign season, gasoline prices are climbing, and the challenger is demanding that the president get more oil on the market and stop foreign suppliers from “holding our nation and our consumers hostage.”

So it went in 2000, with the Republican challenger George W. Bush accusing a Democratic administration of failing Americans by letting prices go so high. Today, not much has changed — except Mr. Bush is president and prices are higher still.

By several broad measures, the cost of a gallon of gas has reached record-breaking levels. By any measure, prices have entered a political discomfort zone that could become combustible if the summer driving season puts yet more pressure on the expense of getting around.

Already, the debate is forming in the presidential contest, with Democrats in Congress testing themes presumptive presidential candidate John Kerry can use against Mr. Bush, and Republicans reminding voters that Mr. Kerry backed a 4.3-cent increase in the gas tax in 1993 and spoke in support of a 50-cent tax increase on a gallon a year later.

“Voters who are concerned about higher gas prices certainly will be troubled by a candidate who has supported an astronomical increase in the price per gallon,” Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said. The 50-cent increase, proposed by another senator for deficit reduction, did not come to a Senate vote.

This time, prices have climbed during Mr. Bush’s watch and his words against President Clinton and Al Gore from 2000 hang out there to be used, in turn, against him: “What I think the president ought to do,” Mr. Bush said then, “is he ought to get on the phone with the OPEC cartel and say, ‘We expect you to open your spigots.’”

The Bush administration voiced concern yesterday about higher gasoline prices, but ruled out tapping into the government’s oil reserves — suggested by some lawmakers — to temporarily ease the problem.

“We need to make sure we have the resources in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to act in the event of an emergency, which would be a severe disruption of energy supplies,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

While Mr. Kerry has not proposed drawing from the reserve, either, he is now taking the Bush administration to task for its energy policies. He said Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney “campaigned promising to make energy a centerpiece of their administration’s agenda,” only to see record industry profits and prices.

Gas prices are about 8 cents higher than their peak in 2000.

The idea that simply jawboning OPEC can bring back cheap gas is dismissed by oil analysts as an oversimplification of the reality of the marketplace, where prices are moved by supply, reprocessing and distribution matters too complex to reduce to a campaign sound bite.

Mr. McClellan offered no sense yesterday that pressure on OPEC is a magic pill, saying, “We continue to engage in ongoing and regular consultations with major producers from around the world.”

Mr. McClellan said the country needs an energy policy that increases domestic production, expands conservation and promotes renewable energy. For his part, Mr. Kerry aggressively pitches conservation and renewables but opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and coastal waters, except for existing operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, reported Tuesday that the price for a gallon of self-serve unleaded gas climbed to a national average of nearly $1.74 — a record in constant dollars, although 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.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide