President Bush warned yesterday that even if Congress passes an energy bill, gasoline prices might continue to soar because of America’s long-term addiction to foreign oil.
“I wish I could simply wave a magic wand and lower gas prices tomorrow; I’d do that,” Mr. Bush told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Unfortunately, higher gas prices are a problem that has been years in the making.”
Mr. Bush, who has been pushing for a comprehensive energy policy for four years, appeared heartened that the House yesterday took up debate on a bill that is expected to pass today. The Senate plans to address the matter next month, and Mr. Bush wants a reconciled version of the bill before Congress recesses in August.
But Democrats such as Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts are vowing to block Mr. Bush’s proposal.
“The energy plan he continues to campaign for will make us more dependent on foreign oil,” Mr. Kerry said on the Senate floor yesterday. “It will keep gas prices at record highs instead of making them affordable for consumers, and it will make our air and water more polluted instead of investing in a cleaner future.”
Mr. Bush said the energy bill will do the opposite, in part by exploring for oil and natural gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“Technology now makes it possible to reach ANWR’s hydrocarbons by drilling on just 2,000 acres of the 19 million acres of land,” Mr. Bush said at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. “And we can reach ANWR’s oil deposits with almost no impact on land and local wildlife.”
He said using a “tiny section of ANWR” will yield a million barrels of oil a day, more than half the amount the United States imports daily from its fourth-leading supplier of petroleum products, Venezuela.
Mr. Bush pointed out that domestic energy production has increased less than 0.5 percent in the past decade, while U.S. energy consumption has jumped more than 12 percent. Meanwhile, China and India have increased their energy consumption sharply, further driving up global prices.
“Our dependence on foreign energy is like a foreign tax on the American Dream — the tax our citizens pay every day in higher gas prices, higher cost to heat and cool their homes — a tax on jobs,” Mr. Bush said. “Worst of all, it’s a tax increasing every year.”
High gasoline prices generally are blamed for the president’s recent slump in job approval ratings. When Mr. Bush visited Fort Hood in Texas last week, a soldier urged him to lower gasoline prices. Yesterday, Mr. Bush acknowledged the problem is taking a toll.
“If you’re a business owner who has to make the choice between adding a new worker or paying a higher energy bill, you’re going to be doing a lot less hiring,” he added.
Mr. Bush’s push for energy legislation came on a day in which he signed a bill to rein in abuse of bankruptcy laws.
“If someone does not pay his or her debts, the rest of society ends up paying them,” said Mr. Bush, who disputed critics’ assertion that the new law will hurt the poor.