With voters feeling the pinch of $4 gas, President Barack Obama proposed new measures Tuesday to reduce oil market manipulation with hopes stiffer penalties will stave off false price fluctuations.
The New York Times notes that the “nationwide average for gas prices is hovering near $4 per gallon — not far from the $5 per gallon that Mr. Obama’s political advisers believe could cripple his re-election chances. ”
Obama called on Congress to increase civil and criminal penalties on individuals and companies involved in manipulative practices. He also pressed for more money to fund the agency charged with policing the markets to hire “cops” for oversight and upgrade old technology, though Capitol Hill is likely to balk at the proposals and their probable $52 million price tag.
“We can’t afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage, and driving prices higher, only to flip the oil for a quick profit,” Obama said.
Republicans, who blame Obama’s energy policies for high gasoline prices, said the new measures would not help Americans struggling with high gasoline prices. GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney also defended speculators (CNBC) and blamed the Obama administration for cutting back on licenses for drilling for oil on federal lands, off-shore drilling, and fracking, as factors in driving up prices.
CFR’s Blake Clayton also recently defended speculators in Foreign Affairs saying: “What critics derisively refer to as ‘oil market speculation’ is all too often a nebulous, epithetical catchall meant to bring to mind clandestine profiteering by financial tycoons at the expense of the rest of the nation. But casting the blame for high gas prices on speculators is sloganizing populism, not serious oil policy.”
Eighty-six percent of voters polled by Pew Research rated the economy as “very important” to their vote and 84 percent are concerned about jobs. Some issues that are a hot button with candidates ranked low in Pew’s list — immigration ranked fifteenth out of eighteen issues. Foreign policy was solidly in the middle, with 52 percent of those polled considering it important.
With voters watchful, economic confidence inched back up last week, according to Gallup, just two points below its four-year high three weeks ago. But economic confidence is heavily split along party lines with 63 percent of Democrats saying the economy is getting better compared with 24 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of independents saying the same thing.
On the campaign trail in Pennsylvania, Romney elaborated on his proposed tax policy (ABC), which would include a swift overhaul of the tax code but without raising rates on the wealthy. His approach, he said, would speed up economic recovery.
“I would actually like to reshape the entire tax system, alright, that is what I’d like to do, and to simplify the system as opposed to all these little baby steps,” Romney said. “I want the top income earners to continue to pay the share they’re paying now. But I do want to help middle income families find a way to make it easier to make ends meet.”
He also said he would drop rates across the board by 20 percent and limit deductions and exemptions.
— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor