By Alexander Bolton - 03/16/11 04:58 PM EDT
Democratic leaders, concerned about the economic impact of rising gas
prices, want President Obama to tap the nation’s 727-million barrel
Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Democratic lawmakers have called for action while Republicans, sensing a political opportunity, have bashed them for curbing domestic drilling permits.
But prices have spiked since Libya erupted in civil war, threatening a crucial supply of sweet crude oil to European refineries.
Democratic leaders say the threat posed by gas prices to the fragile economic recovery is serious enough for the president to act.
“I believe that the time is right,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee. “It’s not a long-term solution; we know that.”
Schumer said rising gas prices was the most pressing concern of voters he marched with in St. Patrick’s Day parades this week.
“If the situation in Libya had been only three or four days, it would have been premature in my judgment to hit the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” Schumer said.
Schumer said he supports tapping the reserve because the armed conflict in Libya has persisted, sparking speculation on the oil markets that unrest may spread to Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing nations, and driving up prices.
Republicans sought this week to put Democrats on the defensive over rising gas prices.
“With prices in most states moving closer and closer to $4 a gallon, and already higher in some areas, Americans have a right to know where the president and Democrats in Congress stand on the issue,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Wednesday morning.
“So let me just begin this morning with the simple observation that it’s no accident that gas prices are skyrocketing at a time when Democrats control two thirds of official Washington,” McConnell said.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the second-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, on Sunday called for Obama to tap the reserve.
“We need to consider moving toward the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to put the oil that we have in reserve into the economy to try to temper this increase in gas prices," Durbin said in a CNN interview. "This isn’t helping our recovery,”
Durbin disagrees with critics who say the reserve should be strictly limited to addressing disruptions in supplies, such as the 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo, which spurred the reserve’s creation.
“I’m worried that if we don’t use the reserve that our economic recovery will stall and fall backward,” Durbin said. “We don’t need to see unemployment figures going up.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) also called for the president to act.
“I believe that history shows us the last time this was done that it brought down gas prices significantly and for a fair amount of time,” he said.
Menendez said he wants to hit the reserve “particularly because of the nature of the fragile economic recovery.” But GOP leaders have so far rejected the proposal to tap the nation’s strategic oil reserves.
“The problem is not supply, as all the experts will say. Gas prices have doubled under Obama and one of the reasons is he has not issued drilling permits, including in the Gulf [of Mexico],” Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) said over the weekend.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration has concluded that allowing greater access to oil reserves on the outer continental shelf would lower gas prices by about three cents per gallon by the year 2030.