Obama accuses GOP of playing 'bumper sticker' politics with higher gas prices

President Obama railed against Republicans on Thursday for “licking their chops” and using a spike in gas prices as a political opportunity.

Appearing at the University of Miami to deliver a high profile speech on energy, Obama aimed to deflect the criticism his administration has received for higher gas prices.

Obama sought to telegraph a message that he is doing all he can to improve energy policy while accusing Republicans of politicizing the issue.

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“Only in politics do people root for bad news, do they greet bad news so enthusiastically,” Obama said before a crowd of students.

“You pay more and they’re licking their chops. And you can bet since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas,” Obama said. “I’ll save you the suspense: step one is drill, step two is drill, and then step three is keep drilling.

“We heard the same line in 2007 when I was running for president,” Obama said. “We hear the same thing every year. We’ve heard the same thing for 30 years.”

But Obama said “the American people aren’t stupid” and he continued to emphasize that drilling isn’t the only solution to fixing the nation’s energy problems, “especially since we’re already drilling.”

“That’s a bumper sticker,” Obama said. “It’s not a strategy to solve our energy challenge. That’s a strategy to get politicians through an election.

“You know there are no quick fixes to this problem, you know we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices,” said Obama, who called for an “all of the above strategy” that focuses on reducing reliance on foreign oil, expanding domestic oil production, improving vehicle fuel efficiency and investing in renewable energy.

Republicans – both on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail – believe Obama is vulnerable to attacks on high gas prices.

Obama’s speech comes as gas prices continued to rise 3.3 cents nationwide overnight, costing consumers an average of $3.61 a gallon, according to AAA. Republicans also point to Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The White House argues Republicans forced Obama to deny a permit with a timeframe that did not give the administration adequate time to conduct an environmental and health review.

The GOP has hammered Obama on the issue, arguing he is standing in the way of expanded drilling, and GOP presidential candidates have vowed to lower gas prices. But federal policymakers have very few options to lower gas prices in the short term, according to experts. Gas prices are largely tethered to oil prices, which are set on global markets. Even a dramatic expansion of domestic oil-and-gas production would have little short-term effect on gas prices.


Still, Obama said he has instructed his administration “to look for every single area where we can make an impact and help consumers in the months ahead, from permitting to delivery bottlenecks to what’s going on in the oil markets.”

“And we will keep taking as many steps as we can in the coming weeks,” he added.

Obama also pointed to increased domestic production under his administration.

The federal Energy Information Administration said last month that domestic oil production increased from 5.1 million barrels per day in 2007 to 5.5 million barrels per day in 2010. That number is expected to increase to 6.7 million barrels per day in 2020, the highest level since 1994.

Foreign oil imports into the United States are also expected to drop from 49 percent of liquid fuel consumption in 2010 to 36 percent in 2035. Additional oil savings are expected as a result of the administration’s new vehicle fuel economy regulations, the agency said.

“Now, we absolutely need safe, responsible oil production here in America,” Obama said. “That’s why under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years.” Republicans argue Obama is taking credit for the accomplishments of past administrations as well as advances in technology and increased drilling on state and private lands. On Thursday, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said an Obama focused on his reelection wants everyone to forget that “gas prices have doubled over the past three years while he consistently blocked and slowed the production of American-made energy.”

“From his drilling moratorium to the denial of the Keystone pipeline, the president has time and again sided with his liberal base over American families,” Buck said.

A short time later a Twitter fight ensued on the social media network between Buck and White House press secretary Jay Carney.

Carney, who has more than 280,000 followers, took aim at Boehner, saying that the House Speaker endorsed an "all of the above" policy because gas prices "will certainly rise again." In the same message, Carney questioned whether the House Speaker has a memory lapse.

"Not sure what you're getting at @PressSec," Buck, who has more than 3,000 followers, responded to Carney on his Twitter account. "But [thanks for] pointing out we've long pursued an all-of-the-above approach while [Obama] blocked it."

A short time later, Buck added, "Sorry, @PressSec, facts are facts: There's LESS offshore acreage open for energy production now than there was when [Obama] took office."

In his speech, the president again took aim at a slew of tax breaks for oil and natural gas companies, bashing Republicans and oil-state Democrats for opposing bills to eliminate them.

“It’s outrageous. It’s inexcusable,” Obama said. “And every politician who’s been fighting to keep these subsidies in place should explain to the American people why the oil industry needs more of their money. Especially at a time like this.”

The president outlined a plan to cut $39 billion worth of tax breaks during the next decade in his fiscal 2013 budget request. The president echoed the plan in a tax reform framework unveiled by the Treasury Department on Wednesday.

But mostly on Thursday, Obama sought to drive home a message that there is no “silver bullet” to solving the energy problems facing the country. At the same time, he took aim at Republicans for their drilling messaging.

“…Anyone who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or isn’t telling you the truth,” the president said.

Before his speech, Obama toured the university’s Industrial Assessment Center, where students are taught to become industrial energy-efficiency experts as they help small-to-mid-sized manufacturers reduce their energy costs.

The center—in swing state Florida—is one of 24 nationwide facilities across the nation and is part of the Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Program, White House officials said.

While he’s in the battleground state, his 14th visit to Florida since taking office, Obama will attend a string of fundraisers two in Miami and one in Orlando, in the heart of the crucial I-4 corridor where many of the state’s independent voters live.

— This story was posted at 2:26 p.m. and updated at 5:52 p.m.