By Ron Fournier
WASHINGTON – President Bush can’t stop gasoline prices from rising this summer, the White House said today, even if the cost tops $3 per gallon.
“If any politician has a magic wand that they can wave over gas prices to lower them, the president … would like to listen to them,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
The nation’s average price of gas, including all grades and taxes, increased 8.58 cents to $1.76 over the last two weeks – with the Midwest and West experiencing the biggest jumps at the pump. USA Today reported today that Shell and Chevron dealers in California and Chicago say they have been told to prepare for the possibility of $3-a-gallon gasoline this summer.
Fleischer said there’s not much a president can do.
“The president is very concerned about the rise of the price of gasoline. It’s tantamount to a tax increase on the American people and that’s one reason why it’s so important for the nation to have an energy policy that reflects the challenges the nation is facing,” he said.
But the White House energy policy, due to be released this month, deals with long-term solutions to supply shortages and won’t ease problems at the pump this summer. Fleischer said Bush is opposed to price controls and did not support cutting the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal gas tax during the presidential campaign.
“He has never sought a quick fix because quick fixes don’t work,” Fleischer said. “The problem America has with energy is that politicians have been so enraptured with quick fixes they have forgotten the real people in the long term.”
“He will resist the siren song of moving from one short-term solution to another,” Fleischer said. “Price controls will make the prices go higher and make people wait in lines.”
The White House has taken a similar little-we-can-do posture as California struggles with electricity shortages. Bush has been criticized in the nation’s largest state for his position.
White House advisers are aware that they will come under pressure if gasoline prices spike nationwide during summer vacations, and are trying to lay the groundwork for Bush’s defense.
Fleischer said the problem is due to the lack of an energy policy the last five to 10 years, pointing a finger not only at President Clinton but also the first Bush administration.
“I picked those years carefully,” Fleischer said. “This is not a matter of partisan politics. This is a matter of a nation that has not had in place an energy policy to deal with the fundamental imbalances in America’s supply and demand.”
He said Bush will address the lack of refineries and transportation infrastructure, along with conservation measures. But Fleischer conceded that the Bush plan won’t address short-term problems.
“If politicians keep moving from one quick fix to the other, the nation will never get out of its energy crisis,” he said.
Fleischer said Bush will focus on “the longer term (solutions), rather than the political.”
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