Obama reframes gas prices as GOP problem

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama is trying to portray himself as the hard-nosed protector of gasoline-buying consumers, and to frame the GOP’s free market policies as one cause of rising gasoline prices.

“We should strengthen protections for American consumers, not gut them,” Obama said in a morning Rose Garden statement.

“Imagine if the NFL quadrupled the number of teams but didn’t increase the number of referees,  he said. “You’d end up having havoc on the field, and you’d diminish the game. It wouldn’t be be fair [and] that’s part of what’s going on in a lot of these markets,” he said, while calling on Congress to give regulators an extra $52 million.

The pitch prompted immediate push-back from skeptical mainstream reporters on a 9:00 a.m phone call, and taunts from GOP activists prior to Obama’s mid-morning statement in the Rose Garden.

“Today’s Rose Garden event is just another gimmick – a shiny object to distract from the fact that Obama doesn’t have a solution for gas prices,” said a statement from Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

The administration is increasingly using the GOP’s budget plans, authored by House budget chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, to portray GOP politicians — especially presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney — as heartless and a threat to middle-class families.

Obama inserted the anti-GOP message throughout his pro-regulatory statement. “Anyone who is pledging to roll back Wall Street reform, Dodd-Frank, would also roll back this vital consumer protection with it,” he declared.

White House spokesman Jay Carney pushed the theme during his early afternoon press conference. “I think most Americans will support [extra regulations and] those who do not support it would probably have to explain it,” Carney said.

“Why are you against putting more cops on the beat? Why are you opposed to ensuring the agencies… have the tools they need and the manpower they need to make sure the American consumers are not getting ripped off?” Carney said.

That message — that the GOP’s policies would boost gas prices — may be used throughout the campaign to blunt criticism of Obama’s policies.

Oil industry experts say prices are rising because Obama has reduced the supply of U.S. oil.

Obama has used his regulatory powers to reduce oil deliveries from federal lands, even as deliveries from state and private lands increased. The policy has boosted gas prices and the green-tech industry, which tends to support Democratic Party politicians.

However, even if approved by Congress, the new spending and legal penalties won’t be available for months — perhaps after the November election.

Also, White House officials said they could not assess the impact of the new penalties on oil prices. “Providing additional resources to ensure there are more cops on the beat… we think those are just sensible steps,” one White House official said.

White House officials also were unable describe any accomplishments of a multi-agency oil trading oversight panel that was established last April by Attorney General Eric Holder. That panel was touted by Obama as protection against price gouging. “I direct you to the Department of Justice … [but] we’re not suggesting there isn’t evidence of manipulation,” said the official.

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