Bush says there's not much he can do about high gas prices
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Bush says there's not much he can do about high gas prices

Knight Ridder | April 20, 2005
By Ron Hutcheson

WASHINGTON - President Bush lamented the soaring cost of gasoline Wednesday but said he doesn't have a "magic wand" to make high prices disappear.

Speaking to members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Bush suggested that he's powerless to stop price increases that pushed the average price of gasoline to a record $2.28 a gallon last week. Rising gas costs have taken a toll on consumer confidence and Bush's standing in public opinion polls.

"Millions of American families and small businesses are hurting because of higher gasoline prices," Bush said. "I wish I could simply wave a magic wand and lower gas prices tomorrow; I'd do that. Unfortunately, higher gas prices are a problem that has been years in the making."

Experts cite several factors for the high gas prices, starting with the cost of crude oil. Growing demand from China and other developing nations, instability in Iraq and America's dependence on foreign energy sources have all helped push up crude oil prices.

Critics say Bush could provide some relief by releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the government's stockpile to protect against an oil disruption, but he's resisted that idea. Bush believes the reserve should be used for national emergencies, not to influence prices at the pump.

Beyond that, experts say there's little Bush can do to bring quick relief at the gas pump.

"With the economic principle of supply and demand, there's not much you can do in the short term," said Mark Baxter, the director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "He's very limited."

Even if Americans don't blame Bush directly, polls indicate that he's feeling a backlash from their discontent with gas prices. Bush's job approval rating recently dropped to 45 percent, the lowest level of his presidency.

About 58 percent of Americans say that gas prices have become a severe or moderate financial hardship.

Bush experienced the political impact firsthand during a trip last week to Fort Hood, Texas, where a soldier urged him to take action on high gas prices. Bush said the soldier asked him, "Why don't you lower gasoline prices, Mr. President?"

"I wish I could," Bush said he replied. The president urged Congress to pass his producer-friendly energy plan, which has been stalled on Capitol Hill since his first White House term.

Lawmakers in both parties agree that the best cure for high prices is to ease U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources, but they disagree over strategies to increase domestic production and plans for alternative energy sources.

Recent statistics show that a little less than half of all foreign imports come from member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Canada is the second largest supplier of crude oil, after Saudi Arabia.

"Because our foreign energy dependence is growing, our ability to take actions at home that will lower prices for American families is diminishing," said Bush, a former Texas oilman. "Our dependence on foreign energy is like a foreign tax on the American dream."

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