Questionable statements: When a Republican occupied the White House, (Sen. Debbie) Stabenow blamed gas prices on the president. Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak demanded Stabenow hold President Obama to the same standard.
“These unaffordable gas prices are hurting families, could cripple our economy and middle-class taxpayers deserve to know why Senator Stabenow refuses to hold President Obama accountable,” said Schostak. ..."It is saddening and disappointing that Michigan families struggle to fill up their gas tanks because Stabenow and Obama fail to pursue a common sense energy policy.”
Gas prices rankle us like few others. If the price of ground beef goes up (and it has), we’re unlikely to change our grocery-shopping choices over it. But gas prices? News media track them, websites are devoted to them. Smartphone apps? We got 'em. Otherwise sensible people will drive across town, maybe even idle in line for a while, to save three cents per gallon.
Knowing the hot button gas prices are, it’s also predictable that politicians will try to take advantage of our feelings in the easiest way possible: Blame the other guy.
The Republicans caught Stabenow talking out of both sides of her mouth. After all, if one president carries responsibility for gas prices, doesn't that mean they all do?
But any credit you can give the Michigan GOP for calling out Stabenow’s inconsistency -- she blamed then-President George W. Bush for skyrocketing gas prices in 2008, but has been oddly silent for this year’s spike -- has to be canceled out by the party’s own. Because how does their press release read? If it was our guy’s fault then, it must be your guy’s fault now. (Not that we pointed this out then. And why aren’t you pointing it out now?)
So who, or what, is responsible for the price of gasoline? Can the president share the blame when it goes up?
The short answer: It depends. But even when a clear influence by a U.S. president is brought to bear, not very much.
“This notion that a politician can wave a magic wand and impact the 90-million-barrel-a-day global oil market is preposterous,” Paul Bledsoe, strategic adviser to the Bipartisan Policy Center and former Clinton administration official, told the Washington Post last month. (The story went on to say that the facts matter less to voters, who routinely blame presidents for gas prices.)
A number of factors determine the price of gasoline in the United States and the largest one, by far, is the price of crude oil, a commodity traded on world markets and largely beyond the reach of the White House. If the world economies are expanding, as they are now as they emerge from a global recession, they need more energy, much of it gasoline. Prices rise with rising demand. That’s simple economics.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration maintains a useful website that explains its subject matter simply, clearly and with a great many charts and graphs. The section on gasoline is helpful, and breaks it down further -- besides the cost of crude oil, the price also reflects refining, distribution, marketing and taxes.
Ah, taxes. Surely the president has something to say about that. Could a chief executive use his influence to lower taxes on gas, enough to be reflected at the pump?
Not really. While federal excise taxes add 18 cents to a gallon of gas (and there has been talk of suspending it in the past, when prices rose), Michigan tacks 19 cents additional onto each gallon sold, plus a state sales tax of 6 percent.
So, what can the president do to affect the price you pay at the pump? Release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, essentially the nation’s emergency stash. This has happened only three times in recent years, the Washington Post reports -- in 1991, at the outset of the first Gulf War, after Hurricane Katrina damaged rigs and refineries in the Gulf of Mexico in 2005 and during the Libyan civil war last year. Most oil experts agree the reserve is for a true global or national emergency, not to ease pump prices, although that hasn’t stopped Newt Gingrich from advocating it repeatedly on the campaign trail this year. And a senior adviser to the president says it’s still on the table.
Truth Squad call: No foul for calling out Stabenow on her selective outrage, but a technical for doing the same thing themselves.