The battle at the pumps - How Republicans and Democrats are waging war on high oil prices

By Laura Brown - 19 May 2011 18:9:0 GMT
The battle at the pumps - How Republicans and Democrats are waging war on high oil prices

With energy policy reaching stalemate in Congress, there are calls for President Obama to do more to generate new energy production.

Americans are increasingly unhappy at the pumps. Gasoline prices might have fallen for the first time in two months this week but with prices surging over $100 a barrel, it's hitting voters' pockets hard.

The focus this week has turned to how to tackle the issue, potentially by increasing domestic production. America relies heavily on imports of oil and natural gas, making them much more susceptible to fluctuating international prices.

Last week, the White House announced ambitious plans to reduce the reliance on imports, including an ambitious plan to work with different agencies to speed up the permission for exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean and the National Petroleum Reserve.

Meanwhile in Congress, Senators and members of the House have focused on energy packages, without much success. Senator Robert Menedez, a Democrat from New Jersey failed to win bipartisan support for his measure to cut tax breaks to the oil industry. There was a similar result for the proposal by Minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky to increase offshore drilling and leasing.

Policies on both sides of the House are firmly entrenched along party political lines. Democrats continue to blame Big Oil, seeking to repeal tax breaks for oil companies, calling for investigations from the Federal Trade Commission to find out if US refiners are cutting production to keep oil prices high to threatening to sue OPEC for high prices. The Blue Dog Coalition is pushing for a bill that provides incentives for those converting heavy-duty trucks to run on natural gas. The Republicans easily passed their bill in the House to force the government to conduct exploration leases sales off the Virginia coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, cancelled or delayed by last year's BP oil spill. But it did not make it through the Senate.

Yet there's also frustration the White House isn't doing more

Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina told the New York Times, ''It's never been the Congress that provided the leadership. We're two different political parties. This is where we hash out the specifics. But we don't have the leadership yet that says we have to get to this goal. I think when the president engages we'll have an energy blueprint.''