Kerry, Bush seize upon record-high gas prices as campaign
James Kuhnhenn and Ken Moritsugu /
Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT)
SAN DIEGO - With gasoline prices rising, Sen. John Kerry and
the Bush campaign blamed each other Tuesday for backing
policies that hurt motorists and the economy.
Kerry, noting that gasoline prices have increased by 11.5
percent during the Bush administration, called on President
Bush to quit storing oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve
and divert it into U.S. markets. He also called for Bush to
pressure the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to
increase production, and said he would promote U.S. oil
production in areas such as the Gulf of Mexico, but - unlike
the president - not in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
The Bush camp replied with a new TV ad accusing Kerry of
having "wacky ideas" because he supported gas-tax
increases in the past to promote energy conservation and cut
the federal deficit. Bush, in Wisconsin, said "some in
the other party" wanted to raise gas taxes, but that he
opposed it because it would hurt the economy. Kerry isn't
proposing to raise gasoline taxes.
Gasoline prices average about $1.80 a gallon nationwide and
are more than $2 a gallon in California. While these are
record levels nominally, they aren't when adjusted for
inflation; in today's dollars, gasoline cost about $2.80
per gallon in 1980.
High gasoline prices can be a powerful political issue.
Kerry aides say today's high prices could be comparable
in impact to those in 1980, which contributed to President
Carter's defeat for re-election.
In San Diego on Tuesday, Kerry diverted his nine-vehicle
motorcade to a Shell gas station - backing up traffic on a
major boulevard - to help ensure that TV cameras recorded his
message. Prices at the station ranged from $2.15 a gallon for
regular to $2.37 for premium.
"No young American in uniform ought to ever be held
hostage to America's dependence on oil from the Middle
East," Kerry later told a student crowd at the
University of California, San Diego.
"If the gas prices keep rising at the rate they're
going now, Dick Cheney and George Bush are going to have to
car-pool to work," Kerry said to wild applause.
"Those aren't Exxon prices. Those are Halliburton
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush wouldn't
use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase the supply of
oil and reduce prices. "It's important that we have
the necessary resources in the event of a severe disruption
of supply," he said.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told a Senate hearing last
week that the impact of diverting 150,000 barrels of oil a
day into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve "is fairly
negligible" in a global market of 86 million barrels a
day. He said filling the reserve with another 55 million
barrels to reach its capacity of 700 million is "a
critical national security objective."
Oil market analysts said that if Kerry's proposals were
followed, they would bring down gasoline prices by only a few
cents per gallon. Diverting oil from the reserve would shave
off about 3 cents per gallon, predicted Mark Baxter, the
director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern
Methodist University in Dallas.
Oil prices did drop in 2000 when President Clinton ordered
oil released from the strategic reserve into the marketplace,
but Kerry is proposing only to halt deposits into the
reserve, not tap what's in it.
The Bush camp cited a comment from Kerry in 2000 in which he
minimized the impact that tapping the Strategic Petroleum
Reserve would have on fuel prices.
"John Kerry was actually against meddling with the
Strategic Petroleum Reserve before he was for it," Bush
campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said. "In 2000, Kerry
said the Strategic Petroleum Reserve wouldn't have an
impact on prices, and today he is using the reserve as a
Kerry spokesman David Wade said the issue Kerry was
addressing in 2000 was the cost of home heating oil, not
gasoline prices, and that increases in assistance for
low-income people resolved that problem.
Analysts say OPEC holds the key to cutting gasoline prices,
and there's little reason to think Kerry would be any
more successful at persuading Saudi Arabia to increase
production than the Bush administration has been.
"They have not looked too kindly on past efforts to
pressure them," said Michael Lynch, an independent
energy consultant in Amherst, Mass. "This is more
posturing than anything."
(Kuhnhenn reported from San Diego with Kerry; Moritsugu
reported from Washington.)
© 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.