Bush lays gas blame on Congress, says Democrats stalled cost fixes

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jon Ward

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 April 29 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 esca- lat­ing 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.”

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 gasprice 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 ‘com­mon­sense 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 on April 29 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 last week, with reg­u­lar at $3.85 a gal­lon.

Dur­ing his sec­ond White House news con­fer­ence of the year, the pres­i­dent fo­cused much of his at- ten­tion 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 ear­lier — 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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