- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2011

With gasoline prices at the pump topping $4 a gallon in some parts of the country, President Obama on Friday said he will tap into a government’s emergency oil stockpile if he has to, but said the U.S. is already producing more oil now and the current crisis is one of demand, not supply.

Mr. Obama told a news conference that domestic production has climbed under his watch, reaching its highest level since 2003 last year even as the one-year anniversary of the Gulf Coast oil spill approaches.

“Any notion that my administration has shut down oil production might make for a good political sound bite, but it doesn’t match up with reality,” Mr. Obama told reporters.

Still, Gulf state lawmakers, congressional Republicans and even a federal judge have excoriated Mr. Obama’s Interior Department for slow-walking new deepwater drilling permits, and said the higher
production Mr. Obama cites is the result of decisions the George W. Bush administration made.

The Obama administration this month issued its first new deepwater drilling permit, despite lifting the moratorium Mr. Obama imposed after the 2010 BP oil disaster more than four months ago.

In addition to weighing whether to tap into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the president said he has also instructed Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to keep on the lookout for any price-gouging at the pump. Recent polls say that rising gas prices are a major concern for voters, raising new fears about the strength of the national economy.

On the crisis in Libya, Mr. Obama said the international community has an obligation to do all it can to prevent mass killings like those in the Balkans and in Rwanda during the 1990s. He said he supports NATO’s around-the-clock monitoring of events in the violence-wracked North African nation, but stressed that any military action must be carefully considered.

“It’s going to require some judgment calls,” Mr. Obama said, reiterating that he has taken no options off the table when it comes to addressing longtime Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s bloody crackdown on the rebels. “These are difficult calls.”

Asked about bipartisan calls for him to assert greater leadership in the budget and spending debates as Congress considers a new bill to prevent a government shutdown, Mr. Obama said he’s been in constant touch with members of both parties on the matter, telling them privately what is and is not acceptable as far as cuts go. Mr. Obama took specific aim at a House GOP effort to trim certain education programs, calling the proposal to cut back federal Pell Grants to help students meet tuition bills “irresponsible.”

In the end, Mr. Obama said, neither side in the debate is going to get 100 percent of what it wants and predicted a final bill will fall somewhere in the middle between the Republican proposal to cut $57 billion more from current spending and a Democratic proposal to roll back $4.7 billion from 2010 levels.

Mr. Obama told reporters that he found images from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan “heartbreaking” and pledged U.S. support as the island nation grapples with the clean-up effort. He offered his condolences to the ally’s prime minister in a phone call Friday morning.

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