House GOP readies push on gas-pump pain

Washington Bureau

Eager to change the subject after a congressional recess filled with reports of voters angry over their budget proposals, House Republicans are turning up the heat on President Obama over gas prices, an issue that continues to dog the president politically.

When they return to Washington next week, Republican leaders will turn to a series of bills aimed at boosting offshore oil-drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Virginia coast, while maintaining that the White House has done little to spur domestic energy production.

“If the White House and Democrats are serious about lowering gas prices, they will work with us to pass this legislation and respond to the American people, who are demanding action to increase American energy,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement Thursday.

Gasoline prices nationwide are inching closer to the $4 a gallon, a symbolic milestone that, if it occurs, isn’t likely to wear well on the White House. And the Commerce Department reported Friday that inflation posted its biggest rise in 10 months, with consumer spending increasing as Americans spend more on gas and food.

People are worried—and Obama is increasingly taking the blame. In a McClatchy-Marist poll released this week, 57% of registered voters surveyed disapproved of the president’s handling of the economy, with just 40% approving.

Pessimism is also on the rise, as 57% of those surveyed said the economy is likely to get worse, not better.

Obama has repeatedly tried to get the message across to Americans that he feels their pain at the pump. "These gas prices are killing you right now," he said earlier this month to the audience at a town-hall meeting in California. But he has also told crowds that the pricing issue is a complicated one that largely falls outside of the government’s control because the U.S. imports the overwhelming majority of its fuel.

Congressional Republicans have assailed the Obama administration for what they say is foot-dragging in approving new offshore oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

And although Republicans are correct when they say gas prices have doubled since the president took office, that omits the fact that the last time prices jumped this high was in the summer of 2008, during President George W. Bush’s final year in office.

Still, the issue would seem to present a political opportunity for the GOP. And it will be one that will be welcome after the political conversation during the two-week recess was driven by reports of conflicts at town-hall meetings over the budget outline authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that radically changes Medicare and slashes tax rates for high-income Americans.

While some of those clashes have been ginned up by outside Democratic groups, the headlines haven’t been helpful to a party that had been claiming the upper hand on issues concerning the budget and federal spending.

At the same time, Obama’s surprising engagement on the birth-certificate issue was viewed by some as an attempt to tie Republicans en masse to a fringe movement and undermine their credibility.

Democrats have been trying to seize upon the energy issue as well. Since Boehner in an interview suggested some open-mindedness on doing away with federal subsidies for oil companies, the White House and congressional Democrats have been hammering on his statement, trying to pressure the speaker into bringing the matter to a floor vote.

On the Senate side, Democrats are playing offense as well. Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would bring Ryan’s budget blueprint to the floor, a bid to saddle Republicans in that chamber, too, with an on-the-record vote on changes to Medicare and tax cuts for the wealthy.

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