GOP not letting up on gas prices

Recent signs that the price of gasoline has peaked won’t stop Republicans from pummeling President Obama over the issue when they return to Washington next week.

A House Energy and Commerce Committee panel is expected to approve two bills Tuesday aimed at expanding domestic oil-and-gas leasing and ensuring that federal environmental regulations don’t raise prices at the pump.

The bills are part of an aggressive push by House Republicans to show that they are working to reign in high gasoline prices, which have become a political liability for both the White House and the GOP.

In a steady stream of speeches, television interviews and press events in recent months, Republicans have sought to blame Obama for high prices, arguing he is not doing enough to expand domestic oil drilling.

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other top Republicans have called on Obama and Senate Democrats to back a series of bills they say would address prices at the pump, and the messaging efforts are sure to continue when Congress returns from its two-week recess.

Energy experts say there is little federal policymakers can do to lower gasoline prices, as they are tethered to oil prices, which are set on world markets. Even a dramatic expansion of domestic oil-and-gas leasing would have little effect on prices, they say.

Energy Committee Republicans will meet Monday to begin considering two of the bills that are part of the GOP response to high gas prices. Republicans on the panel’s energy and power subcommittee will likely vote to approve the bills Tuesday with little support from Democrats.

The first bill, the Gasoline Regulations Act, would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from finalizing key air pollution regulations until a Cabinet-level commission analyzes the regulations’ potential impacts on gasoline prices.

The second bill, the Strategic Energy Production Act, would expand oil-and-gas exploration, production and leasing on federal lands if the president releases oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), a 696-million-barrel emergency oil stockpile.

The White House has said that tapping the SPR is “on the table,” but officials have stressed that no final decisions have been made. Republicans have argued that there is no reason to tap the reserve, as it is meant to address oil supply disruptions.

The votes on the GOP legislation comes amid indications that gasoline prices have peaked.

Prices at the pump reached nearly $3.94 last Friday, the highest point this year, according to AAA. But prices have decreased in recent days, reversing increases that began in December.

Gasoline prices fell to a national average of $3.90 Thursday, according to AAA.

“What this could potentially mean for motorists is that prices could take a bit of a breather or they might fall,” Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at gasbuddy.com, told The Hill Wednesday.