Energy & Environment

Democrats seek to counter GOP attacks on gas prices

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Democrats are looking to counter GOP attacks on rising gas prices by talking up job gains and wage growth heading into a crucial midterm election year where both the House and Senate are up for grabs.

Republicans are hammering Democrats over higher prices at the pump, where a gallon of gas averaged nearly $3.15 on Tuesday with projections of a steady increase as the summer progresses.

But Democrats are betting that people are better off now than they were earlier on in the pandemic and won’t hold gas prices against them as the economy recovers.

“I think the Democratic message … is going to be: Look at how fast we’re growing; look at the number of jobs that are available; look at how fast wages are growing; look at how much money we’ve pumped into the economy,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

Democrats may need to start throwing those punches, and hope that they land, sooner rather than later. In recent weeks, Republicans have seized on gas prices as a way to criticize President Biden’s economic agenda.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel has repeatedly tweeted about the high prices, while the campaign arm of House Republicans recently launched a digital ad campaign going after vulnerable Democrats on gas prices.

Some GOP lawmakers have sought to tie the increases to actions by the Biden administration, with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) writing in an op-ed earlier this month that “bad policy is already creating conditions like higher gasoline prices.”

Other Republicans have tried to tie higher prices to Biden’s decision to nix the Keystone XL pipeline project and a pause on new drilling leases.

The White House is pushing back. Press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing last week that “there sometimes is a misunderstanding of what causes gas prices to increase.” She added that she’s trying to “convey to the American people that we’re working on it, and certainly the supply, availability of oil has a huge impact.”

The White House is also highlighting a Washington Post fact-check that gave four “Pinocchios” to GOP attacks blaming Biden for the gas prices.

Some Democratic strategists say the party shouldn’t be worried about the latest GOP assault.

“Their gas stuff is kind of like TV every summer: There’s no new shows, so everybody always airs the crappy repeats,” Democratic strategist Eddie Vale told The Hill.

“This is what they do every summer. The McCain campaign did it, the Romney campaign did it,” he added, referring to the unsuccessful presidential campaigns of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in 2012.

But unlike those previous years, Democrats can point to more areas of economic success this time around, albeit with the challenge of inflation, which is accelerating faster than expected.

Democrats are highlighting Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that was signed into law in March after Congress passed the legislation along party-line votes.

“House Democrats delivered for the American people by passing the American Rescue Plan which put Americans back to work, growing wages and getting our economy revving again — no thanks to House Republicans, all of whom voted against helping the American people,” Chris Taylor, a spokesperson for the campaign arm of House Democrats, said in a statement when asked about the party’s response to higher gas prices.

The American Rescue Plan delivered stimulus checks to most U.S. households, expanded the child tax credit and extended federal unemployment benefits.

The June jobs report showed U.S. employers added a robust 850,000 and wages rose 3.6 percent compared with June 2020.

Democratic messaging on wages, however, has been inconsistent, with Beyer and others pointing to gains while Psaki last week appeared to argue that Biden’s recent executive order on business practices was meant to counter suppressed wages.

“His view is that when you have a lack of competition that’s driving up prices for consumers, driving down wages for workers, a lack of competition that is costing the median American household $5,000 per year, that as the president of the United States, somebody who represents middle class Americans across the country, he has a responsibility to act,” she said on Friday.

On gas prices, some Democrats argue there are some policy steps that could be taken in the long run to decrease demand for fossil fuels.

“Democrats are hard at work on forward-thinking solutions that will lower energy prices and reduce demand for fossil fuels, including by improving fuel efficiency standards and accelerating the deployment of affordable electric vehicles,” Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who chairs the Energy subcommittee on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement to The Hill.

Market analysts have said that Biden’s policies to date have had little to no effect on gas prices.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous to talk about the Keystone Pipeline as impacting the price of crude oil in North America for 2021,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service.

In terms of criticism of the administration’s temporary pause on new drilling leases, Kloza said there’s “plenty of acreage that is developable … and just not being used at the moment.”

“It has more to do with financial discipline and less to do with any Biden policies,” he said.

Instead, he attributed the price increases to high demand lifting the price of crude oil, as well as a driver shortage that makes it harder to get gasoline to consumers.

Beyer told The Hill that, overall, it’s important for Democrats to hit back on the GOP attacks.

“There’s an old political adage that an attack unresponded to is an attack agreed to,” he said. “I think we have to fight back, and we have lots of messages to fight back on.”

Tags 2022 midterms Bobby Rush economy gas prices Jen Psaki job gains Joe Biden John Barrasso John McCain Mitt Romney wage growth
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