By Ben Geman - 02/26/12 04:59 PM EST
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to press Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s dominant oil producer, to boost output as rising prices are hitting consumers at the gasoline pump.
A letter to Clinton on Sunday from Schumer, a top political strategist for Senate Democrats, comes as Democrats are trying to blunt constant GOP attacks over soaring gasoline prices.
“To address this situation, I urge the State Department to work with the government of Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production, as they are currently producing well under their capacity,” adds the letter, which was first obtained by Reuters.
Tensions over Iran’s nuclear program have helped to push crude oil prices sharply higher in recent weeks. Oil is trading at its highest levels since early May, and prices rose again to close at $109.77 per barrel Friday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Regular gasoline prices are now averaging $3.69-per-gallon nationwide, and are already above or nearing $4 in some markets, according to AAA.
The cost of gasoline is tethered to global oil prices, and Saudi Arabia is the only OPEC producer with significant spare production capacity.
The kingdom has the capacity to produce over 12 million barrels per day. Schumer’s letter notes that current production is in the 10 million barrel range, and presses Clinton to urge the Saudis to ramp up output to 12.5 million barrels.
Schumer’s letter to Clinton argues that Saudi Arabia’s production levels have a “negative impact” on global markets.
“When paired with recent actions by Iran in halting sales to French and U.K. companies, and threatening to stop sales to countries such as Italy, already fragile markets are unduly roiled. These market shifts are now hitting Americans at the pump, reverberating throughout the rest of our economy, and threatening our recovery,” he writes.
Republicans continued to hammer the Obama administration Sunday over prices at the gas pump, which loom as a political threat to the president's reelection despite good news on the economy and jobs of late.
Republicans on Capitol Hill and the party’s presidential candidates argue Obama is keeping too many areas off-limits to energy production.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), speaking on CNN Sunday, said that in the 2012 presidential election, gas prices and energy will be a “big issue,” arguing that voters will see that “every time you go get your car filled up, it's going to be because of President Obama's inaction.”
President Obama, in a major speech last week, sought to rebut GOP attacks.
The president and aides, warning there’s no quick fix on gasoline prices, have accused Republicans of playing politics with the issue while touting Obama’s record on domestic energy production, auto efficiency rules and development of alternative sources.
Click here for what to watch in the gas price battles going forward.