Increased drilling alone is not an energy plan, Obama says in addressing gas price increases

MIAMI — President Barack Obama on Thursday assailed Republicans for what he described as a flawed and dishonest strategy for reducing gas prices, predicting his rivals would offer nothing but more drilling and political promises of $2-a-gallon gas. Said the president: “The American people aren’t stupid.”

“That’s not a plan, especially since we’re already drilling. That’s a bumper sticker,” Obama said in a stop at the University of Miami. “It’s not a strategy to solve our energy challenge. That’s a strategy to get politicians through an election. You know there are no quick fixes to this problem.”

Obama spoke as gas has reached the highest price at the pump ever for this time of year: an average of $3.58 per gallon. White House advisers see it as a cyclical occurrence but knew Obama had to address the topic, one of deep concern to consumers and growing fodder for Republicans seeking to unseat Obama.

Obama said gas prices were “like a tax straight out of their paychecks.” He promoted an energy agenda of oil, gas, wind, solar, nuclear and biofuel energy.

And he took aim at Republicans.

“You can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas. I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is to drill, step two is to drill, and step three is to keep drilling. … We’ve heard the same thing for thirty years. Well, the American people aren’t stupid.”

Obama insisted there are no short-term solutions to high gas prices, and that anyone suggesting otherwise was not being honest. Still, he sought to offer something to anxious voters by saying he had ordered his administration to search for every possible area to help consumers in the coming months.

He sought to take credit for rising oil and gas production, a greater mix of energy sources and decreased consumption. Ahead of a fundraising blitz in the evening, he promoted an energy strategy that the administration says will reduce dependence on foreign oil in the long term.

Republicans have seized on the issue, citing Obama’s decision to reject a permit for a cross-country oil pipeline as evidence of a misguided policy. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has warned of $5-a-gallon gas, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said he could lower prices to $2.50 a gallon.

Obama aides worry that the rise in prices could reverse the country’s economic gains and the president’s improved political standing. A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that though Obama’s approval rating on the economy has climbed, 58 percent disapprove of what he’s doing on gas prices.

White House officials point to increased oil production and decreased consumption as evidence that Obama’s policies are working and will lead to greater energy independence in the long run. But they assert there is little Obama — or any president — can do to change the trajectory of prices now.

Despite more domestic oil and less consumption, “these prices are going up, and that tells you that there are other things beyond our control, like unrest in the Middle East or other factors like the growth of emerging countries such as China and India,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

To be sure, oil and gas production has increased during the Obama administration, though the trend began during the presidency of George W. Bush, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The increase has reversed a decline that began in 1986, and the agency projects that by 2020 oil production will reach a level not seen since 1994.

The agency also has reported a drop in petroleum consumption, caused by the economic downturn after the 2008 recession, new efficiencies and changes in consumer behavior.

While in Florida, Obama also plans to raise money, including a $30,000-a-person event at the Windermere, Fla., home of Dallas Mavericks guard Vince Carter. An avid basketball fan, Obama will attend a dinner Thursday at Carter’s house just three days before the NBA All-Star Game in nearby Orlando.

Obama also will attend fundraising events at the Biltmore Hotel and at the Coral Gables home of lawyer Chris Korge, a top fundraiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Last week, Obama took a three-day West Coast trip and raised about $8 million in eight campaign events.

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