- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A once-popular bumper sticker says simply, “When Bush took office, gas was $1.46.” It was meant to be a slam, but as the end of his eight years approaches, President Bush is seeing gas prices that, adjusted for inflation, are lower than when he was inaugurated.

Last week’s $1.59 - the average for a gallon of regular on Dec. 29, according to the Energy Information Administration - works out to $1.33 in 2001 dollars, or 9 percent less than it was the day Mr. Bush took office. The tumble in prices, from a high of more than $4.05 in early July, has meant incredible savings.

John B. Townsend II, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the inflation comparison doesn’t mean much to consumers paying at the pump, but the drop in prices has put real money in consumers’ pockets.

At gas prices’ peak in July, Americans were spending $1.6 billion a day at the gas pump. Mr. Townsend said that has tumbled $1 billion in five months, and at today’s prices drivers are spending about $600 million. For the average family that fills up once a week, that means paying $25 a week rather than $75.

Mr. Townsend said high prices contributed to sending the country into a recession by using up income and added that low prices could help end the downturn.

“Now we’re saving this $1 billion a day, and it may be in the long run the thing that pushed us unto the recession is the thing that brings us out,” he said.

Republicans said Democrats should issue a mea culpa.

“I wonder if the same people who blamed the president for the increase in prices will now credit him with the reduction in prices. It’s only fair,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Mr. Stewart said the falling prices don’t obviate the need to continue to develop American sources of energy, which he said also could produce new jobs.

Gas prices famously have bedeviled Mr. Bush, including at a February press conference when he was stumped by the price at the pump.

“Wait, what did you just say? You’re predicting $4 a gallon gasoline?” a surprised Mr. Bush asked the questioner, CBS News Radio’s Peter Maer, who said a number of analysts had made that prediction. At the time, the price was about $3.12 a gallon.

“That’s interesting. I hadn’t heard that,” Mr. Bush said, drawing comparisons to his father, who earned a reputation for being out of touch in 1992 when the New York Times reported the then-president was amazed by an advanced electronic supermarket checkout scanner.

In April, Mr. Bush was back on the offense on gas prices, holding a press conference to call for action on energy such as oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Prices would rise past the $4 a gallon mark in June and July before tumbling.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was particularly forward in her criticism of Mr. Bush, though she herself was tripped up by the fickle prices. In 2007, her Web site blamed Mr. Bush for gas price increases, arguing they had more than doubled to $3.22 by May of that year.

The Washington Post, though, crunched the numbers and found that more than half of the increase had happened since Mrs. Pelosi had become speaker.

Mrs. Pelosi’s office did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The current price isn’t the lowest of the Bush administration. That came the week of Dec. 17, 2001, when gas averaged $1.04 a gallon.

The EIA says the declining economy worldwide has helped bring down demand, and therefore prices. The agency said worldwide demand would drop 450,000 barrels a day in 2009 and U.S. gas prices would average $2.03 this year.

Still, over the long haul, EIA says gas prices will rise, plateauing at $130 a barrel by 2030. The 2008 average was projected to be about $100 per barrel.

President-elect Barack Obama is already taking a hands-off approach; his transition team has announced he will not seek a windfall profits tax on oil companies.

In early June, with the average national price about to cross the $4 threshold, Mr. Obama said oil companies should face an extra levy to help fund a consumer rebate. However, by early December, with gas less than $1.80 and falling, Mr. Obama’s team told the Houston Chronicle he had backed off.

• Tom LoBianco contributed to this article.

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