Price of gasoline may pose problem for White House : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

May 10, 2001

Price of Gasoline May Pose Problem for White House


WASHINGTON, May 9 Republicans in the White House and around the country are increasingly nervous that surging gas prices and rolling blackouts will pose a colossal political problem for President Bush because they are matters that he has limited control over but that touch people in their daily lives.

For Mr. Bush, the issue is particularly perilous. He is trying to defuse a political time bomb while not threatening the oil industry, which once employed both him and his vice president and was a huge source of donations to his campaign.

Even as the president scrambled to blame the Clinton administration for the energy woes, House Democrats held a news conference today to upbraid Mr. Bush as having a "do- nothing response" because he is captive to the industry.

"Politically, Bush has got an absolute nightmare," said Gov. William J. Janklow of South Dakota, a Republican who is close to Mr. Bush. "People are not even discussing taxes right now. They're discussing petroleum. It's money out of their pocket. Everybody knows what they paid for gas last year, last month, last week and yesterday. This is the most unfair heat he will take. He's been president for only 100 and some days."

Many Republicans say they are worried that, fairly or unfairly, Mr. Bush could find himself in the same predicament as President Jimmy Carter. Even after Mr. Carter declared that his energy policy was "the moral equivalent of war," energy problems were widely viewed as contributing to his defeat in 1980.

Republican Party polls show that energy is intensifying as a major issue, and that it could easily escalate around Memorial Day weekend, when millions of Americans will start their vacations by filling up their tanks with gasoline that already costs $2 a gallon or more in some places.

Leading Republicans expressed fear that the close ties of Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to the energy industry had cost them credibility. Some also said they were concerned that Mr. Cheney's remarks about conservation last week that saving energy was a "sign of personal virtue" but not a basis for "a sound, comprehensive energy policy" could invite more recriminations from Democrats and environmentalists.

"This is going to be a very sticky wicket for them," said a Republican strategist who is close to the White House. "Emotionally, there's a lot of suspicion about the oil companies' motives" and that energy executives are Mr. Bush's "pals making money and he's not going to crack down on them." He added: "It really throws his message discipline and agenda control out the window. This is going to be a really significant test because all of a sudden education doesn't matter as much."

Seeking to point blame elsewhere, Mr. Bush asserted in a speech here on Tuesday: "For too long we have had no energy policy. And like you, I am deeply concerned about consumer prices. They are going up."

Sensing Mr. Bush's vulnerability, Representative Richard A. Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, lambasted him today. "The president has responded to the gathering crisis," Mr. Gephardt said, "by throwing up his hands and saying, `There's nothing we can do. There's no way to give people immediate relief from blackouts and sky-high increases of the price of gasoline at the pump.' "

Representative Jay Inslee, Democrat of Washington, cast the matter as one of the people battling big oil, saying: "The president of the United States needs to start listening to those people in the food banks rather than his contributors in the state of Texas. He doesn't work for the oil companies anymore, he works for us."

Jack Oliver, the deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, responded: "We're not going to get in a mudslinging contest. Obviously this is not an easy situation but it's an opportunity to show leadership."

Mr. Bush is planning to release an energy blueprint next week that is expected to call for more oil and gas drilling and the construction of new power plants. But his advisers caution that the plan would do little to address the escalating gasoline prices, especially since Mr. Bush has opposed cutting the federal gasoline tax. Mr. Bush has also adamantly refused the pleas of California officials, who want the federal government to impose caps on wholesale electricity prices.

Anticipating that Mr. Bush will be accused of not doing enough to remedy the troubles, his advisers have told allies on Capitol Hill not to expect any easy fixes.

Explaining Mr. Bush's limited options, Governor Janklow said: "What do you do if you're president? You can't just tell the oil companies to lower the prices. It's not so simplistic. You've got to deal with these people in the Middle East who are running their own agenda. And you've got political groups in America who don't care if we all have to walk around with backpacks on their backs. They call all development energy exploitation."

One move the administration could make would be imposing higher fuel economy standards on the large and popular sports utility vehicles. But that could, in turn, set off an outcry from auto workers in Ohio and Michigan.

Lawmakers from different regions said in interviews that they were being inundated by complaints from their constituents about energy prices.

"People are concerned about gas prices," said Senator John Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat. "It's a regular subject at town hall meetings. The people you hear from the most are the small business people.

"There's a gut feeling among a lot of people that the oil companies seem to be making a lot of money while gasoline prices are going up. The fact that the president has a long and deep relationship with oil companies is the kind of thing that Americans may associate with these gasoline prices."

Well before he took office, Mr. Bush clearly recognized the potency of the energy issue, campaigning to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. He has also used it to bolster his case for easing some environmental rules that industry has long fought. In March, for example, he defended his decision to back away from regulations on carbon dioxide emissions by saying that the nation could not afford such an effort when it faced an energy crisis.

As concern grows, the oil industry appears primed for political battle. This week, industry officials, seeking to shift the blame for the energy shortage, began attacking lawmakers from farming states for backing production of ethanol as an alternative fuel. The officials argued that the effort to promote ethanol came at the expense of the oil companies.

Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, said that he met this afternoon with the head of his state's farm bureau, who complained that high energy costs were raising the price of fertilizer. Asked if Mr. Bush could be tarnished by such problems, Mr. Brownback said: "That is a potential, particularly if you don't step up and really try to address the problem. I hope we really address the problem and don't announce two or three things that just sound good."

Some Republicans argue that Mr. Bush will not be held accountable for energy problems.

"This is not one of those situations where someone else eats the meal and the last guy in gets stuck with the check," said Alex Castellanos, a Republican media consultant who works closely with the White House. "The president will be measured by how he moves forward on this now."

But Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, says the White House can get away only so long with blaming the past administration. "There's a heck of a lot better chance you can avoid the blame now than two and a half years from now," he said. "But, sooner or later, you get deep enough into an administration when it starts becoming your problem."

White House officials had initially argued that Gov. Gray Davis of California, a Democrat, would bear the brunt of that state's energy crisis. But there has been a growing concern among some people around the president that he, too, could be tarred with the crisis there. As part of a public relations offensive, the administration dispatched Spencer Abraham, the energy secretary, to California last week to speak out about the administration's proposals.

The Democrats' efforts to saddle Mr. Bush with the energy troubles marks a striking role reversal from last summer, when party leaders were worried that increasing gasoline prices would be linked to the Clinton administration and threaten Al Gore's presidential prospects.

In the campaign, Mr. Gore questioned whether Mr. Bush would "stand up to big oil" interests. In words that he echoed this week, Mr. Bush retorted that under the Clinton administration, "There has been no energy policy."

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company | Privacy Information

-- Swissrose (, May 10, 2001


I can't believe the # of local people that are allready saying BUSH HAS DONE IT ALL> I have heard numerous times from different individualt that all the energy problems are caused by the new administration! "He's an OIL man" they say & thats the whole cause of all the energy problems. Most don't even relize that it extends Nation wide & NOT just here in N California. I guess the Democrats will be in office again in 2005. Beats the Hell out of me where people get these ideas. Unless the Liberal Damned Media is behind it :) Geno-ca

-- Geno-Ca (, May 10, 2001.

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