With talk of gas prices heading north of $5-a-gallon this summer, President Obama traveled to Florida to do some damage control Thursday, deflecting GOP criticisms of his energy policy and blaming unseasonably high fuel costs on ravenous demand from China and tensions in the Middle East.
Gas prices have surged to their highest February levels on record, jumping to $3.59 per gallon according to GasBuddy.com, prompting worries that higher fuel costs could put the squeeze on consumer spending and slow down an economy starting to show signs of life.
"Just like last year, gas prices are climbing across the country. This time, it's happening even earlier," Obama said, speaking to students at the University of Miami. In Florida, gas prices are 11 cents above the national average, providing a particularly appropriate backdrop for the president's remarks.
"And when gas prices go up, it hurts everybody—everybody who owns a car, everybody who owns a business. It means you've got to stretch a paycheck even further," he added.
Obama also fired back at Republicans who've blamed him for steadily increasing prices at the pump and warned simply drilling for more oil won't solve the underlying problems pushing fuel costs higher: perennial turmoil in the Middle East and growing energy demand abroad.
"The American people aren't stupid," Obama said. "They know that's not a plan, especially since we're already drilling. That's a bumper sticker. That's not a strategy to solve our energy challenge."
The president countered the familiar GOP chorus of "drill baby, drill" with an "all-of-the-above" energy policy, which would "develop every available source of American energy so our future isn’t controlled by events on the other side of the world," he said, including ramping up domestic oil production, investing in alternative energy sources, and encouraging Americans to buy more fuel-efficient cars.
But others aren't so sure the president's words and actions match up as well as he'd like for voters to think. While championing an America in control of its own energy destiny, Obama has nixed plans for projects and policies that would increase domestic production and ease gas prices such as the Keystone XL project, says Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.
"This administration's actions and its policy proposals are out of sync with its words," Gerard said in a conference call. "The administration is restricting where oil and natural gas development may occur, leasing less often, shortening lease terms, going slow on permit approvals, and increasing or threatening to increase the industry's development costs though higher taxes and more regulations."
A more restrictive energy policy "is not a prescription for increased oil and natural gas production," Gerard added, and doesn't generate "the jobs and more affordable energy that America's workers and consumers need."