Wednesday, May 19, 2004

President Bush yesterday ruled out opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower gas prices during the war on terror and accused Sen. John Kerry of “playing politics” with the issue.

The president bristled when a reporter pointed out that Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, has suggested lowering prices by flooding the market with oil earmarked for the nation’s emergency supply.

“We will not play politics with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” Mr. Bush said at the conclusion of a Cabinet meeting. “That petroleum reserve is in place in case of major disruptions of energy supplies to the United States.”

Mr. Bush added, “Emptying the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would put America in a dangerous position in the war on terror.

“We’re at war,” he said. “We must not put ourselves in a worse position in this war. And playing politics with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would do just that.”

Even before being asked about gas prices by reporters, Mr. Bush made his most extensive public comments to date about gas prices, which have reached an average of more than $2 a gallon and threaten to become a major political issue in the presidential election.

“I am concerned about the price of gasoline at the pump,” Mr. Bush said. “I fully understand how that affects American consumers, how it crimps the budgets of moms and dads who are trying to provide for their families, how it affects the truck driver, how it affects the small-business owner.”

Mr. Bush blamed the price spike on congressional Democrats.

“If people had acted on my energy bill when I submitted it three years ago, we would be in a much better situation today,” he said.

“They’ve tried to have it both ways,” he added. “On the one hand, they decry the price at the pump. And on the other hand, they won’t do anything about it.”

The president pointed out that his plan called for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) in Alaska.

“Had ANWR been passed — had it not been vetoed in the past — we anticipate an additional million barrels of oil would have been coming out of that part of the world, which would obviously have a positive impact for today’s consumers,” he said.

“And so it’s time for some action here to get us less dependent,” he added. “They need to pass that which I have submitted to Congress, so this country will become less dependent on foreign sources of energy.”

Mr. Kerry’s presidential campaign countered that the Bush energy plan would do nothing to lower gas prices.

“Once again, the president is making excuses instead of actually coming up with a plan to deal with the gas-price crisis that is roiling the American economy,” said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer.

“The fact is that his energy bill doesn’t lower gas prices, does little to solve our long-term energy problems and fails to end the country’s reliance on Middle Eastern oil,” Mr. Singer added.

But Mr. Bush emphasized that aside from high gas prices, the economy is booming.

“We’re pleased with the economic progress here in America — after all, the growth rates are high,” he said. “1.1 million new jobs since last August have been created by the entrepreneurs and small-business owners and risk-takers of America. And that’s positive.”

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