Politics Fuel Debate on Gas

George E. Curry | 3/25/2012, 9:29 p.m.

Republicans are so intent on defeating President Barack Obama in November that they have accused him of deliberately raising the price of gasoline.

Obama pointed out the ridiculousness of that argument during a recent news conference. Replying to a question from Ed Henry of Fox News, Obama said: "Ed, just from a political perspective, do you think the president of the United States going into re-election wants gas prices to go higher?" Obama said. "Is there anybody here who thinks that makes a lot of sense?"

But Republicans and journalists employed by conservative news organizations are not the only people blaming the president for high gas prices, which are hovering around $3.80 a gallon, a 29.5-cent increase over the past month.

A CBS/New York Times poll this month found that 54 percent of Americans believe the president "can do a lot about" gas prices. Consequently, Obama saw his job rating drop from 50 percent in February to 41 percent this month, a period that coincides with rising gas prices.

Republican presidential contenders are also pointing the fingers at Obama, with Newt Gingrich promising policies that would bring gas down to $2.50 a gallon.

Without mentioning Gingrich by name, White House Press Secretary said, "Any politician who says that is lying." He explained, "That strategy does not exist. It is a simple fact that there is no such plan that can guarantee the price of oil or the price at the pump."

The reality is that gasoline prices are set on the world market, not 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Center, the cost of crude oil accounts for 76 percent of the price of a gallon of regular gas. Refining costs and profits are responsible for 6 percent, distribution marketing and retail costs add another 6 percent and taxes contributes another 12 percent.

As Steven Mufson writes in the Washington Post, "Today's oil prices are the product of years and decades of exploration, automobile design and ingrained consumer habits combined with political events in places such as Sudan and Libya, anxiety about possible conflict with Iran, and the energy aftershocks of last year's earthquake in Japan."

FackCheck.org dissects the numbers game.

"The president said that [oil] imports declined last year to less than 50 percent of U.S. consumption, while the Kentucky senator (Mitch McConnell) warned that the U.S. imports 60 percent of our oil. McConnell was talking about total imports, while Obama was talking about net imports (total imports minus exports). Both can claim to be correct, but the EIA [Energy Information Administration] sides with Obama's match when gauging U.S. dependency on foreign oil."

Writing on her Facebook page, Sarah Palin accused President Obama of "allowing America to remain increasingly dependent on imports from foreign oil regimes in dangerously unstable parts of the world."

FackCheck.org noted that the U.S. imported 2.3 million barrels a day from 13 countries in the Middle East in 2012, down from 3 million barrels a day in 2008. There was an 8 percent decline