WASHINGTON -- People who claim a lack of oil drilling is to blame for spiking gasoline prices are either dumb or dishonest, President Barack Obama argued Thursday as Democrats ramped up their defense against Republicans claiming just that.
"Anybody who tells you that we can just drill our way out of this problem does not know what they're talking about, or they're not telling you the truth -- one or the other," Obama said at an event held in New Hampshire to tout his energy policies.
He noted that, in fact, oil production in the United States has hit its highest level in eight years, that more rigs are operating in the U.S. than in the rest of the world combined, that more than 400 drilling permits have been granted since the massive BP oil spill, and that for the first time in 13 years, oil imports account for less than half of all U.S. oil consumption.
"And no matter what you hear from some folks in an election year, the key part of this strategy over the last three years has been to increase safe, responsible oil production here at home, while also pursuing clean energy for the future," Obama added.
Regardless, Republicans, who launched a coordinated assault on the administration over gas prices earlier this week, kept up the drumbeat on Thursday.
"American families and small businesses continue to struggle, and they're especially feeling the impact of rising gas prices, which have doubled under President Obama," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters in his weekly briefing.
In the other chamber, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) took to the floor to make the GOP case in the wake of Obama's speech. "It's clear that the president is defensive on this issue," said Barrasso, who also blamed Obama for a doubling of of gas prices.
Neither he nor Boehner noted that the current average of $3.73 per gallon is lower than the price at the start of the recession during the Bush administration.
"The president's polices are at best ineffective and at worst are contributing to the higher gas prices," Barrasso said, before hitting the week's mantra of demanding more drilling.
"The president actually has some options that make a lot of sense to a lot of Americans," said the senator, "and that option, of course, is to increase American energy production."
Obama also renewed his request to end $4 billion in tax subsidies that the oil companies still receive every year, even as they're reaping record profits. The GOP was quick to attack that as well.
"Democrats have already acknowledged that the idea the President discussed today won't lower gas prices," Boehner said later the same day in a statement. "In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service says it would increase them. Republicans are focused on an all-of-the-above energy policy, and I remain hopeful the President will follow through on his commitment to work with us to increase the supply of American-made energy."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried a different angle in the Democratic pushback, suggesting that the top driver of gas prices right now is not supply but aggressive speculation in oil markets. She pointed to blocked efforts by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to stop such speculation, which the CFTC estimates adds more than 50 cents a gallon to the price of gas.
"What's happening about the price at the pump is very interesting," Pelosi said in her weekly press conference. "Supply is going up, demand is going down, and the price is going up," she said, referring to recent data to that effect.
"So how do you explain that?" Pelosi asked. "You explain it by recognizing that Republicans are protecting Wall Street speculators responsible for driving up the pain at the pump."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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