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GAS PRICES

OPEC move to cut production riles Bush

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday he was disappointed that OPEC decided to cut production, a step certain to fuel rising pump prices and an election-year issue. But he took no steps to "jawbone" oil-producing countries into pumping more, as he promised in the 2000 campaign.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush had not telephoned OPEC leaders but said members of his administration had talked to foreign officials. He declined to identify them.

McClellan blamed Senate Democrats for blocking Bush's energy plan for three years. Without Bush's plan to increase petroleum drilling and energy conservation, "we continue to go from crisis to crisis," McClellan said. Although Bush's fellow Republicans control the House and Senate, Democrats have used "procedural moves" to obstruct the Bush plan, he said.

A recent Energy Department analysis said that even if Congress had agreed to drilling in Alaska, an element of Bush's energy plan, the impact on oil prices would be less than 50 cents a barrel.

Bush was "disappointed" by OPEC's decision to cut production by 4 percent, McClellan said. "Producers should not take steps that harm American consumers and our economy."

As a presidential candidate four years ago, Bush pledged to use his political influence to "jawbone OPEC" to keep oil prices in check. Yesterday, McCellan said Bush was concerned about rising prices. The Department of Energy and the Federal Trade Commission are monitoring markets for signs of price-gouging, he said.

Bush and his Democratic opponent, Senator John F. Kerry, disagreed during campaign events Tuesday over causes and solutions for record-high gas prices. The president warned that some Democrats want to raise federal taxes on gasoline; Kerry contended that the administration has not taken steps to drive down prices.

The president's reelection campaign aired a TV commercial saying that Kerry has supported hiking gas taxes in the past.

Bush said higher gas taxes would hurt the economy, and he urged Congress to approve a comprehensive energy bill. The White House said Bush will not stop pumping oil into the nation's strategic reserves because the impact on prices would be negligible, and the reserves need to be brought to full capacity.

Kerry, however, called on Bush to divert that oil to the marketplace and urged the administration to pressure OPEC into providing more. Bush has done nothing with OPEC to reduce prices, Kerry said.

In 2000, candidate Bush had pledged a get-tough response to get OPEC to retreat when it hiked oil prices.

"What I think the president ought to do," he said in January 2000 while campaigning in New Hampshire, where heating oil prices were soaring, "is he ought to get on the phone with the OPEC cartel and say, `We expect you to open your spigots!' "

Two months later, Bush was in Florida and suggested as president he would use his "political capital" with Mideast producers. "These are countries where it wasn't all that long ago that a President Bush helped Kuwait," he reminded voters, alluding to his father and the Gulf War.

In January 2000, when Bush made his pledge, oil prices were approaching $28 a barrel. Yesterday's decision by OPEC could drive prices past $40 per barrel.

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