- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

President Bush blamed the Democratic Congress for blocking bills he said would have lowered gas prices, marking a coordinated strategy with congressional Republicans to shift responsibility for the nation’s economic woes to Democrats. They, in turn, were quick to strike back.

“I’ve repeatedly submitted proposals to help address these problems. Yet time after time, Congress chose to block them,” Mr. Bush said yesterday during a news conference in the Rose Garden.

“I believe that they’re letting the American people down. I’m perplexed, I guess, is the best way to describe it, about why there’s no action, inactivity, on big issues.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, responded to Mr. Bush by saying “the president has proclaimed that he is the ‘Decider,’ but this morning all he tried to do is pass the buck to someone else rather than accept responsibility for his administration’s failed economic policies and escalating gas prices.”

“For his first six years in office, the president and the Republican majorities in Congress did virtually nothing to address gasoline prices and to make America more energy independent,” he said. “Then, with new Democratic majorities in Congress, we passed landmark energy legislation that will increase fuel economy and invest in renewable and alternative fuel sources.”

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Senate and House Republicans, meanwhile, simultaneously unleashed a barrage of press releases and rhetoric saying that Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, own the gas-price problem.

Oil recently hit $120 a barrel and gas is heading toward $4 a gallon this summer.

“Two years ago, Speaker Pelosi promised the American people that the Democrats had a ‘common-sense plan’ to lower rising gas prices. Not only haven’t we seen this plan, but prices have soared by $1.27 since Representative Pelosi became speaker,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Mrs. Pelosi was quick to cite “years of neglect to our economic condition” by the Bush administration.

Republicans, however, said Democrats repeatedly have blocked attempts to increase domestic production, going all the way back to President Clinton’s 1996 veto of a bill that would have opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska for drilling.

The White House held a series of conference calls during the past three weeks with Republican Party officials from House and Senate leadership offices to coordinate their message on gas prices, a senior Republican aide said.

House Republicans have coined the phrase “Pelosi Premium.”

Senate Republicans yesterday circulated a picture of Democratic senators standing in front of a Capitol Hill gas station on April 27, 2006, when they protested prices of $3.09 for a gallon of regular, next to a picture of the same sign this week, with regular at $3.85 a gallon.

During his second White House news conference of the year, the president focused much of his attention on Democratic opposition to expanding domestic oil production.

“There are a lot of reserves to be found in ANWR. That’s a given,” Mr. Bush said. “We can explore in environmentally friendly ways.”

“And yet this is a litmus-test issue for many in Congress. Somehow if you mention ANWR, it means you don’t care about the environment. Well, I’m hoping now people, when they say ANWR, it means you don’t care about the gasoline prices that people are paying,” he said.

Republicans say ANWR would produce 1 million barrels a day, but Democrats point out that it would take 10 years to bring production online, and that supply would only last for six months.

Mr. Bush also said he would consider the “gas tax holiday” from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which has been proposed by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

But the president resisted calls from Democrats and 16 Republican senators to pause deposits in the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve (SPR). He used such a tool to stall gas price spikes in April 2006.

Mr. Bush said that the 75,000 barrels per day deposited in the SPR would have little impact if they were released for consumption — the U.S. imports about 12 million barrels a day, consumes about 20 million barrels a day, and the worldwide demand is 85 million barrels a day.

But later in the day, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that after stopping SPR deposits for the summer of 2006, the White House concluded that “it did not have an effect.”

Mr. Bush also did not deny — as he did one week ago — that the U.S. is in a recession. Instead, he sidestepped specific questions saying that “the average person doesn’t really care what we call it.”

“The average person wants to know whether or not we know that they’re paying higher gasoline prices and that they’re worried about staying in their homes, and I do understand that,” Mr. Bush said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, railed against the president that “all of the sudden, he’s realizing the problems.”

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