Covering the Economy: Louis Uchitelle
Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Economist Edition)

Covering the Economy: Gasoline Prices

Democrats are (because of the environmentalist wing of the party) generally in favor of higher gasoline taxes and higher gasoline prices--except when gasoline prices are high). Republicans are in favor of letting oil markets "work"--except when gasoline prices are high.

Here's a sampling of stories:

Here's AP:

AP Josef Hebert | Plans Produced to Attack High Gas Prices : WASHINGTON — High gasoline costs and the political fallout they may create are producing a flurry of proposals from both Republicans and Democrats aimed at soothing motorists' anger. But nobody is predicting prices will ease anytime soon. Democrats are blaming Republicans, especially President Bush, while Republicans argue that congressional Democrats have stood in the way of more domestic oil production.

Bush directed his environmental agency Tuesday to stand ready to ease clean air rules if they interfere in gasoline supplies this summer. Industry analysts said that likely would have only a marginal influence on prices. The president also announced that the government would not take 10 million barrels of oil out of the market for the U.S. emergency reserve as had been planned. Bush maintained that "every little bit helps," even though industry analysts said that was so little oil it would have no impact on prices.

The president expressed frustration at his inability to force down prices. "What people are seeing at their gasoline pumps reflects the global economy in which we live," he acknowledged in a speech aimed at countering critics who have accused him of being soft on oil companies and ignoring high prices at the pump.

Bush vowed to pursue any collusion or price gouging and directed the Justice Department to help states pursue allegations that "gas prices have been unfairly manipulated." But the White House opposes additional federal laws to address price gouging or strengthen antitrust laws as they pertain to oil companies, as some members of Congress have proposed. "There are very good laws on the books," said Al Hubbard, the president's chief economics adviser. "What's important is that those laws are enforced aggressively."...

Here's Gary Richards from the Mercury News:

MercuryNews.com | 04/26/2006 | Soaring gasoline prices forecast: By Gary Richards Mercury News: California's average gasoline price jumped two cents Tuesday to $3.14 a gallon, and some analysts said drivers could be paying $3.35 or more by Memorial Day, May 29. The gloomy forecast came on the same day President Bush announced measures he said could curb rising prices -- freeing up oil reserves and temporarily waiving regional clean-air requirements.

Those moves may have calmed the energy market -- crude oil and gas futures fell slightly Tuesday. But most experts say they will provide little significant relief over the next few weeks. ``We wish we could tell you there's light at the end of the tunnel, but it's probably an oncoming train,'' said Sean Comey, spokesman for AAA of Northern California.

Bush called for a nationwide probe into possible price manipulation. He directed the Energy Department to delay oil shipments this summer to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the government's fuel stockpile. The change would free up about 12 million barrels of oil over the summer, a small percentage considering the nation consumes 20 million barrels a day. ``It's more symbol than substance,'' said David Sandalow, an energy expert at the Brookings Institution.

Skeptics, including Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., questioned Bush's call to investigate price gouging, saying the Federal Trade Commission is already probing the issue because of legislation Democrats pushed through Congress. The agency's findings are expected late in May.

And here's Chris Cilizza from the Washington Post:

The Fix -- Chris Cillizza's Politics Blog on washingtonpost.com: Parsing the Polls: The Politics of Gas Prices: You can't swing a cat in Washington, D.C., this week without hitting a politician talking about the rapid increase in gas prices and what should be done about it. President George W. Bush on Tuesday sought to address the problem, calling for an investigation into possible price gouging the increased in alternative fuels like ethanol. The president ruled out setting a fixed price for gas.

The rising cost of gas -- now around $3 a gallon across the country -- has Republican strategists concerned (and Democrats elated) about its impact on the national political environment this fall. Already on the defensive over Iraq and the handling of Hurricane Katrina, congressional Republicans are seeking to project a proactive response to gas prices -- although most members admit that there is no quick or easy solution. (Expect GOP leaders to do a series of events on Thursday as Exxon Mobil announces its profits.) Democrats, for their part, have tried to tie gas prices to Republicans' alleged "giveaways" to oil companies over the past few years.

Who will win this rhetorical fight? And is the public paying attention? Let's parse the polls to find some answers.

Two things immediately become apparent when examining recent polling on gas prices: Americans see the rising costs as a major burden and are generally unhappy about what the Bush administration has done to address the problem.... 70 percent of those tested said the "recent price increases in gasoline" have caused "financial hardship" for their families.... 23 percent of respondents said gasoline prices have caused "a severe hardship that affects your ability to maintain your standard of living," while 26 percent identified it a "moderate hardship that affects you somewhat but does not jeopardize your current standard of living." Just more than one-quarter of voters (28 percent) said the gas price increase has caused them no hardship.... [C]onsiderable anxiety exists in the general public about gas -- its price and availability. It is a prototypical pocketbook issue -- one that every American (Democrat, Republican and independent) can identify with and one that people want the government to address.... [T]he public is dissatisfied with the Bush administration's approach to solving the problem. In the Post-ABC survey, just 23 percent approved of the job the White House was doing on the "situation with gasoline prices," while 74 percent disapproved....

Putting aside the fact that more than one-third of the sample put the blame on President Bush, the finding that a near-majority of voters cite U.S. oil companies as the root of the problem should concern Republican strategists.... [V]oters are much more open to believe that Republicans are helping out their friends in Big Oil -- especially when the president and vice president have each served as high-ranking officials in oil or energy services companies.

Expect Democrats to hammer home those connections in the weeks and months ahead of the fall election, and they're likely to lay out a broad vision of their own on energy policy. These numbers seem to suggest a considerable opening for Democrats on the issue (much more so than corruption in Congress), but it remains to be seen if any alternative they offer will resonate with disgruntled voters. A plan should emerge before this summer, according to an informed party strategist...

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