GOP sees opportunity to knock Biden amid rising gas prices
As gas prices are on the rise, Republicans see a window to step up their attacks on President Biden’s energy agenda.
GOP criticisms of higher costs at the pump could resonate with Americans, and congressional Republicans have repeatedly bashed the Biden administration’s push toward renewable fuel sources as a war on energy.
“Every time you go fill up, you’re feeling that in your pocket,” said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.).
Experts say the increasing demand for gas, and subsequent rise in prices, is due in large part to an improving economy as states loosen COVID-19 restrictions. The revitalized economy may outweigh higher gas prices for many Americans — but Republicans are betting on some frustration.
As the country makes progress in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, more people are expected to be empowered to travel, take vacations and once again use their cars.
Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, said that this, combined with cyclical summer gasoline increases, is expected to drive prices up.
“Generally when demand is as strong as it is, you’re not going to find any discounts,” De Haan said. “I think there’s going to be some pent up demand numbers here and there throughout the summer and that’s going to influence price.”
He added that exactly how much prices will rise is uncertain but that he could see it going into the low $3 range and doesn’t expect it to go above $3.25 on average.
As the prices increase, some Republicans see a window to knock the Biden administration.
Asked whether he believes Republicans will use the rising prices to criticize Biden, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said, “I don’t think we’re going to have to say a word.”
“I think consumers, just Americans across the board, are going to do it,” he added.
“Any time you have smart policy that lowers costs for families, that’s something that benefits our economy and benefits people,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told The Hill. “What President Biden’s done has reversed that and it’s leading to higher prices that people are paying at the pump.”
Some of Biden’s energy policies that the party has been particularly critical of are the decision to effectively nix the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would’ve carried oil from Canada to the U.S., and the administration’s temporary pause on new oil and gas leasing on public lands.
The Energy Department’s statistics agency has found that the leasing pause will have “no effects” until next year.
But Graves argued that while the actions themselves may not be having such a big impact, the signals they send about the future of fossil fuels are worth considering.
“Some of the executive orders coming out of the gate by this administration sent a really powerful signal to markets,” he said.
Hitting Democrats on gas prices is a familiar line of attack for the GOP, which also sought to blame former President Obama for gas prices that rose under his administration and which occurred amid the economic rebound from the recession.
However, Obama hit back, saying in 2012 that, “It’s the easiest thing in the world [to] make phony election-year promises about lower gas prices.”
“What’s harder is to make a serious, sustained commitment to tackle a problem that may not be solved in one year or one term or even one decade,” he added.
Despite Obama’s subsequent reelection, some Republicans still see this strategy as successful.
“Whenever people see a high price at the pump, there’s a negative reaction to that,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye. “It’s a sign of a rebounding economy, but people still feel that pinch when they go to the pump, and that’s what they react to.”
“The reality is, when there are rising gas prices, people are going to be critical of the party that’s in power,” he said. “At a time when you’ve got a president who has a high popularity and an infrastructure plan that is popular, if not known in the details, this is a natural place for them to go.”
However, some argued that criticizing Biden for rising prices is actually criticizing him for improving the economy.
“If they blame him for rising gas prices, they’re really blaming him for economic success,” De Haan said. “The two go part and parcel. If you’re going to blame the president for rising gas prices, you’re really giving the president credit for leading to an economy where gasoline demand would be so much higher.”
The president’s allies are expected to hit back on criticism by pointing to the COVID-19 recovery and policies that have put more money in peoples’ pockets.
“I just have trouble imagining that these kinds of attacks might stick,” said Ari Drennen, a spokesperson for the left-leaning Center for American Progress think tank. “Right now, Americans are thinking about getting back to work, they’re thinking about getting back to school, they’re thinking about seeing loved ones again.”
“Ordinary people have more money in their pockets right now thanks to the investments that President Biden has made and no thanks to Republicans in Congress,” she added, referring to the president’s stimulus package.
And some argued they don’t see gas prices becoming a major issue of the Biden presidency.
“What the American public is evaluating this president and the administration on are: Are we creating more jobs? Are people back to work? Are schools reopening? Are people getting vaccinated? Is the pandemic waning or not?” said Josh Freed, who leads the center-left think tank Third Way’s climate and energy program.
“The answer in all of those is a resounding yes,” Freed said.
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