President Repeats First-Term Answers to Rising Gas Prices

President Bush said Tuesday that Congress is blocking his proposals to deal with high gas prices and dragging its feet on legislation to make more student loans available and ease the mortgage crunch. Video by AP
By Dan Eggen and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Soaring gasoline prices spilled over into Washington and the presidential race yesterday, as Congress moved toward a showdown with President Bush over legislation aimed at forcing oil companies to help ease the burden on consumers.

Bush, reaching back to the earliest days of his administration, resurrected GOP demands for new drilling in the Alaska wilderness, fewer restrictions on oil refineries and other measures aimed at lowering fuel prices through higher production.

Democratic leaders shot back that Bush is out of touch with struggling Americans, as he pours money into the Iraq war at the expense of domestic priorities. Senate leaders promised to unveil gasoline price legislation by week's end.

Two oil giants, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, announced record profits yesterday totaling $17 billion in the first three months of the year. Exxon Mobil is expected to smash its own previous records for quarterly corporate profits tomorrow. Average gasoline prices, meanwhile, have surged to a new high of $3.60 per gallon.

On the presidential campaign trail, GOP candidate John McCain (Ariz.) and Democratic hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) have both backed the idea of a summer tax holiday for gasoline and diesel. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) denounced the idea as a political gimmick that would cost thousands of jobs and save drivers $28 at most.

Bush declined to take a position on the concept of a gas tax holiday, saying he was "open to any ideas" to deal with rising fuel prices. But in a news conference in the Rose Garden, he focused on controversial, longer-term proposals aimed at loosening environmental or regulatory restrictions on domestic oil exploration and production, and he also advocated building additional nuclear plants.

"If there was a magic wand to wave," Bush said, "I'd be waving it, of course. . . . But there is no magic wand to wave right now. It took us a while to get to this fix."

Although oil-related proposals were at the center of his remarks, Bush also offered a broader critique of congressional inaction, arguing that Democrats have worsened the nation's economic problems by opposing his housing reforms, a Colombia free-trade agreement and other proposals.

Many of Bush's oil-related proposals date back to his first term, however, and failed to gain traction even when Congress was under GOP control. His remarks underscored his difficult political predicament, as he is hobbled by dismal approval ratings and overshadowed by a lively presidential campaign.

Indeed, many lawmakers signaled yesterday that they would pay little heed to the president's criticisms, particularly on oil. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said that "people don't have time for finger-pointing from the White House right now.

"They have listened to this president for eight years, for eight years that these gas prices have gone up and up and up, for eight years after these oil prices have gone up and up and up, and they want answers," Klobuchar said.

In some respects, the parties' responses to rising oil prices have become a rite of spring. Prices at the pump surge as energy companies switch from winter gasoline blends to summer blends, creating shortages of refinery capacity. Democrats reproach oil companies for "price gouging" and call for federal investigations and windfall profit taxes. Republicans call for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and outer continental shelf, off the Gulf and Pacific coasts. Both parties blame the other.

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