- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

Rising gasoline prices pose a threat to the economy and — a matter that should be of concern even to people who don’t care for our president — George W. Bush’s hopes for re-election.

Naturally enough, members of Congress, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and the president himself have some solutions in mind to bring prices down. And just as naturally, not all these solutions are solutions at all.

The economic issue could be major. As consumers spend more on gasoline, they have less money to spend on other products. And when demand slows, so does production of goods. A consequence is fewer jobs.

Meanwhile, just about everything gets more expensive or else profits decline because just about everything depends on gasoline-dependent transportation one way or another.

Some members of Congress say the president should divert gasoline from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Problem: The amounts that could be had that way are not sufficient to affect prices at the pump by more than a penny or so, if that much, in the reported estimates of some experts.

Mr. Kerry, who once supported a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase, does have one good idea: He now opposes that tax increase. He advocates conservation. Nothing conserves like high prices, so he may get that wish.

The Democratic senator from Massachusetts forfeits the right to be taken very seriously on the matter when he also carries on demagogically about the compensation of oil company executives. Start paying them the minimum wage tomorrow and the oil-price consequences will be zilch.

Mr. Bush discusses his proposal to drill for oil in the Alaskan wilderness as if that could be a quick fix. It would not be, and there is little that can be done immediately short of capturing the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.

OPEC’s plans to cut back production on April 1 are a major source of the spiral in prices. In the view of not a few, another cause is environmental restrictions enacted during the Clinton administration that kicked in just this year.

It’s clear to many commentators Mr. Bush’s policies are not the reason for the current price increases, and it is similarly clear to many of them he will be blamed and could be hurt at the polls. They then shrug their shoulders as if that’s that. But anyone who cares about democracy and the election of people whose proposals would work should similarly care that the public understands such things.

Whatever legitimate reasons there may be to vote against Mr. Bush in November, gas prices are not one of them.

Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers.

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