Obama: Rivals ‘Licking Their Chops’ on Energy

President Barack Obama said his Republican critics are “licking their chops” at the prospect of rising gasoline prices as higher energy costs threaten to crimp the economic recovery.

For the third time in a week, Obama discussed energy policy as he’s come under increasing criticism from Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail.

“Higher gas prices are like a tax straight out of your paychecks,” Obama said at Nashua Community College in Nashua, New Hampshire, an electoral swing state that his campaign has targeted for the November election. “I know this is hard to believe, but some politicians are seeing higher gas prices as a political opportunity.”

Obama has been riding a wave of positive economic news as data from homebuilding to car sales to jobless claims have beat forecasts, indicating the recovery is gaining traction. The one sour note has been the rise in gasoline prices, signs of which confront voters daily.

Gasoline prices have climbed 13 percent since the start of the year to $3.73 a gallon for regular at the pump as of Feb. 29, according to the American Automobile Association. A year ago the average price was $3.38, the group said. Prices may go higher as the U.S. summer driving season gets under way.

While the increase is driven in part by increased tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and higher demand as the U.S. recovery strengthens, gasoline prices have given Republicans a target.

Republican Criticism

Republican presidential candidates and congressional leaders say Obama has thwarted domestic energy exploration, imposed tougher regulations and blocked approval of TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL pipeline to bring crude from Canada’s oils sands to U.S. refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is the leading contender for the Republican nomination, said while campaigning in Fargo, North Dakota, today that Obama is trying to take credit for boosting U.S. energy development when he “has tried to slow the growth of oil and gas production in this country, and coal production in this country.”

Romney said the president has cut lease rates and slashed drilling permits by a third and is now trying to get the Environmental Protection Agency among others to regulate hydraulic fracturing to extract fossil fuels from shale.

“So, far from taking credit, he should be hanging his head and taking a little bit of the blame for what’s going on today,” Romney said.

Gas Price Poll

The U.S. public spreads the blame for higher gasoline prices, citing Obama, oil companies and unrest in the Middle East, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center in Washington. Eighteen percent fault the administration, 14 percent say oil companies are to blame and 11 percent cite the situation with Iran and in the Middle East, Pew said. The poll was conducted Feb. 23-26 among 1,005 adults. The error margin is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The administration has highlighted data that show domestic crude oil production is at the highest level in eight years. White House press secretary Jay Carney handed out a chart to reporters on Air Force One that shows a decline in net imports as a share of oil consumption.

In his speech, Obama credited actions taken by his administration and that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, saying energy price and supply issues “won’t be solved by one party or administration.” He also said increased domestic production won’t set the price of gasoline on its own.

New York Fundraisers

Crude oil for April delivery rose $1.77, or 1.7 percent, to settle at $108.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as U.S. officials escalated warnings to Iran over its nuclear program. Prices have advanced 8.8 percent in the past year.

Obama again called on Congress to take up his proposal to eliminate credits and deductions for the oil and natural gas industries. As he did after introducing his jobs plan in September, he urged voters to “let your member of Congress know where you stand.”

From Nashua, Obama went to New York City for a quartet of fundraisers, capped by an event at the home of the designer Michael Smith, who was chosen in 2009 by first lady Michelle Obama to be the White House decorator.

Obama expects to raise $5 million for his campaign at the four events, including a $35,800-per-person dinner for investment bankers and hedge fund managers, according to a campaign official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Obama has raised $140 million for his re-election campaign through the end of January, Federal Election Commission reports show.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hans Nichols in Washington at hnichols2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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