It's the sort of thing that happens when your approval rating starts flirting with 30 percent: A few paragraphs into a story on your plan to combat high gas prices, the New York Times reveals that you announced the plan after taking a 14-car motorcade across town and past an Exxon station where the cheapest gas was going for $3.29 a gallon.
George W. Bush came out fighting on gas prices today, but the man once hailed as a strong leader came across as a follower instead. Two weeks ago, Senate Democrats asked Bush to join them in supporting legislation aimed at preventing and prosecuting price gouging in the energy markets. After seeing the polls and hearing complaints from constituents during their spring break, Republicans in the House and Senate returned to Washington Monday and immediately asked Bush to order the attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission to open investigations into price-gouging allegations.
The president finally took up the call today, saying that he was directing the Department of Justice to work with the FTC and the Energy Department to investigate any "manipulation or cheating related to the current gasoline prices." But even as he demanded that oil companies treat American consumers fairly, he took steps to make it easier for them to profit by temporarily suspending certain environmental regulations.
As Raw Story is reporting, Senate Democrats may urge relief at the other end of the pump by calling for a 60-day suspension of the 18 cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax. The Democrats' proposal would make up for the lost tax revenue by eliminating $6 billion in tax breaks for oil companies. Bush has already signaled that the plan is a nonstarter: Although he said today that oil companies don't need all the tax breaks they're getting, he said he's asking Congress to trim those breaks by just $2 billion over the next 10 years.
Bush also announced today that he'll do something he once ripped into Al Gore for even suggesting: use the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a way to increase oil supply and cut prices. Gore proposed dipping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in September 2000 in order to cut prices on home heating oil and bring gas prices down from what was then a shockingly high $2 a gallon. As Think Progress notes, candidate Bush called the plan an "election year ploy" that would threaten national security. "The Strategic Reserve is an insurance policy meant for a sudden disruption of our energy supply or for war," Bush said then. "Strategic Reserve should not be used as an attempt to drive down oil prices right before an election. It should not be used for short-term political gain at the cost of long-term national security."
Yet here we are, just months away from another election, and the same George W. Bush says he'll use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to drive down oil prices. "One immediate way we can signal to people we're serious about increasing supply is to stop making purchases or deposits to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for a short period of time," Bush said. "I've directed the Department of Energy to defer filling the reserve this summer. Our strategic reserve is sufficiently large enough to guard against any major supply disruption over the next few months. So by deferring deposits until the fall, we'll leave a little more oil on the market. Every little bit helps."
How about the little bit required to fuel that 14-car motorcade?