Higher Gasoline Prices?
Posted on March 23, 2012
Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have
repeatedly lifted several quotes out of context to allege that
President Barack Obama and his administration actually wanted to drive
up the price of gasoline, and have succeeded.
Gingrich said Obama wants gasoline prices to get to the European levels
of $9 or $10 a gallon, but that “he just wants it to be gradual.” But
that’s not what Obama said. Rather, when asked in 2008 about then-$4
per gallon gasoline prices, and whether that could be a good thing to
encourage people toward alternative energy, Obama responded that he
“would have preferred a gradual adjustment” because “the fact that this
is such a shock to American pocketbooks is not a good thing.” He said
nothing of wanting to goose gasoline prices to European levels,
gradually or otherwise.
Romney has repeatedly claimed Obama said during the 2008 campaign that
under his energy policy, energy prices would “skyrocket.” “And they
have,” Romney said. But Obama was talking about electricity, not
gasoline. And the cap-and-trade plan he endorsed to limit carbon
emissions — which died in the Senate in 2009 — included provisions
aimed at protecting consumers from higher prices.
Gingrich repeatedly has cited a comment Energy Secretary Steven Chu
made in 2008 about wanting to boost the price of gasoline to encourage
fuel conservation. But Chu made that remark before the 2008 election
and before Chu became energy secretary. Upon joining the Obama
administration, Chu said it would be “completely unwise to want to
increase the price of gasoline.”
With gasoline prices inching toward $4 per gallon (they stood at $3.88
per gallon for regular unleaded on March 22), Gingrich and Romney have
not only blamed Obama for the rising cost of gasoline, they say it was
part of his stated plan.
What Romney and Gingrich Say
In an interview on Fox News Sunday on March 18, Romney was asked by
host Bret Baier if he believes President Obama is to blame for high
Romney, March 18: Well, there’s no question but when he ran for office,
he said he wanted to see gasoline prices go up. He said that energy
prices would skyrocket under his views, and he has selected three
people to help him implement that program.
On the campaign trail on March 19 in Illinois, and again in a Google+
“hangout” on March 20, Romney repeated the claim:
Romney, March 19: There’s one promise he made that he kept. You see,
when he was running, he talked about how his energy policies would
cause energy prices to skyrocket.
And when told that gasoline prices had jumped, he said he’d rather see
them go up gradually.
Romney, March 20: The doubling of gasoline prices obviously follows a
presidential policy which had been to see energy prices rise.
You may recall that the president famously said back when he was a
candidate that under his energy policy, energy prices would skyrocket.
And they have.
And he also was asked about the rise in gas prices. He said, “Well. I’d
rather see it change gradually.”
In both addresses, Romney said Obama has apparently had an “election
year conversion” and that he now wants to bring gasoline prices down.
Here’s the Gingrich version. He was asked by Charlie Rose of CBS’ “This
Morning” on Feb. 21 whether he believes Obama wanted higher gasoline
Gingrich, Feb. 21: Of course he does. C’mon Charlie, you know that. He
has said it himself. Chu, his secretary of energy, said in 2008 he
wanted gasoline prices in America to get to the European level, which
is $9 or $10 a gallon. Last year, the president said people shouldn’t
complain about higher gas prices — they ought to buy more efficient
cars. The president himself said he wants to get there, he just wants
it to be gradual.
There are three comments at the heart of these claims, two by Obama and
one by Steven Chu, Obama’s secretary of energy. We’ll address each one
The ‘Gradual’ Comment
The claim that Obama wanted to see gasoline prices rise “gradually”
comes from comments Obama made in an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood
on June 10, 2008, when gasoline was $4 a gallon.
Harwood, June 10, 2008: As difficult as this is for consumers right
now, is, in fact, high gas prices what we need to let the market work,
a line incentive so that we do shift to alternative means of energy?
Obama: Well, I think that we have been slow to move in a better
direction when it comes to energy usage. And the president, frankly,
hasn’t had an energy policy. And as a consequence, we’ve been consuming
energy as if it’s infinite. We now know that our demand is badly
outstripping supply with China and India growing as rapidly as they
Harwood: So could these high prices help us?
Obama: I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment. The
fact that this is such a shock to American pocketbooks is not a good
thing. But if we take some steps right now to help people make the
adjustment, first of all by putting more money into their pockets, but
also by encouraging the market to adapt to these new circumstances more
quickly, particularly US automakers, then I think ultimately, we can
come out of this stronger and have a more efficient energy policy than
we do right now.
It’s true that given the opportunity, Obama did not dismiss the notion
outright that higher gasoline prices might be a good idea to create
incentives for people to switch to alternative energy sources. But the
context of the question was that gasoline had risen to $4 per gallon.
The rapid rise in the price of gasoline was, he said, “such a shock to
American pocketbooks” and “not a good thing,” and that he would have
preferred that they had risen more gradually. That’s different from
advocating for gradually higher gasoline prices in the future.
By way of further context, Obama had just dismissed Sen. John McCain’s
gasoline tax holiday as a short-term gimmick. Obama said long term, the
only way to lower gasoline prices was to change the way Americans
consume oil, and that as president he would invest in alternative
energy and raise the fuel efficiency standards on cars (both of which
he later did).
The ‘Skyrocket’ Comment
Romney is also off base with his claim about Obama’s prediction that
energy prices would “skyrocket” under his policies, and that we are
seeing the fruition of that now at the gasoline pump. Obama’s
“skyrocket” quote was part of a discussion about cap-and-trade as a
means to reduce greenhouse gases.
There’s no question that curbing greenhouse gas emissions would bring
about higher energy prices. Obama, speaking to the editorial board of
the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 17, 2008, said electricity costs
(not gasoline prices) would “necessarily skyrocket” as a result of
capping emissions levels, and that his job as president would be to
convince the public and Congress that benefits outweigh costs. “If we
can’t make that argument persuasively enough, you can be Lyndon
Johnson, you can be the master of Washington, you’re not going to get
On June 26, 2009, the House passed the American Clean Energy and
Security Act (H.R. 2454), a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill, by a
vote of 219-212. The bill included allowances to electric companies to
protect consumers from increases in electricity bills. But the bill
died in the Senate. And so, of course, it couldn’t have driven up
gasoline prices. Romney has lifted Obama’s quote out of context and
applied it to a wholly different topic, gasoline prices.
Chu’s ‘European Level’ Comment
Gingrich repeatedly has cited Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s 2008
comment on gasoline taxes as evidence that Obama’s policies are to
blame for high gasoline prices. In one such recent instance, Gingrich
was asked by Charlie Rose of CBS’ “This Morning” whether he believes
Obama wanted higher gasoline prices.
Gingrich, March 20: Of course… you know that. He has said it himself.
Chu, his secretary of energy, said in 2008 he wanted gasoline prices in
America to get to the European level, which is $9 or $10 a gallon.
Did Chu really say that? Yes, but he said it before he became energy
secretary and before Obama won the 2008 presidential election. Shortly
after becoming energy secretary, Chu said it would be “completely
unwise to want to increase the price of gasoline.”
Gingrich is referring to comments Chu made to the Wall Street Journal
in September 2008. In a Dec. 12, 2008, article, the Wall Street Journal
said Chu “has called for gradually ramping up gasoline taxes over 15
years to coax consumers into buying more-efficient cars and living in
neighborhoods closer to work.” The story noted the interview with Chu
took place in September 2008, when Chu was in charge of the Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory in California.
Chu, September 2008: Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the
price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.
Note that the context in the story was a discussion of gasoline taxes.
The story immediately went on to note that Obama “has dismissed the
idea of boosting the federal gasoline tax, a move energy experts say
could be the single most effective step to promote alternative energies
and temper demand. Mr. Obama said Sunday that a heightened gasoline tax
would be a ‘mistake’ because it would put ‘additional burdens on
American families right now.’ ”
In April 2009, as secretary of energy, Chu was asked about his 2008
interview with the Wall Street Journal at a congressional hearing on
Earth Day. He told Congress he rejected the idea of raising taxes or
taking any steps that would raise the price of gasoline.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, April 28, 2009: Last September, you made a
statement that somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of
gasoline to the levels in Europe, which at the time exceeded $8 a
gallon. As secretary of energy will you speak for or against any
measures that would raise the price of gasoline?
Chu: As secretary of energy, I think especially now in today’s economic
climate it would be completely unwise to want to increase the price of
gasoline. And so we are looking forward to reducing the price of
transportation in the American family. And this is done by encouraging
fuel-efficient cars. This is done by developing alternative forms of
fuel like biofuels that can lead to a separate source, an independent
source of transportation fuel.
Stearns: But you can’t honestly believe that you want the American
people to pay for gasoline at the prices, the level in Europe?
Chu: No, we don’t.
Gasoline taxes remain at 18.4 cents per gallon, unchanged since 1993.
– Robert Farley and Eugene Kiely
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