A White House spokesman answered questions at today’s press briefing about skyrocketing gas prices with reminders about President Obama’s victory lap in securing an extension of the payroll tax cut.
Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest filled in for Jay Carney at the noon briefing, explaining that Carney had a late night coming back with Obama from Florida.
“What is the president saying to OPEC?” one reporter asked Earnest. “And what are the conversations around here like as gas prices are rising? For instance, yesterday I was in California — in one day gas prices at a regular station went from $4.17 to $4.29 — and that’s in a day. They’re likely to see $5.00 quicker than many other parts of the country. What is this president doing and what’s the conversations like?”
“Well, the president, as he described yesterday, is certainly concerned about the impact that rising gas prices is having on family budgets all across the country,” Earnest responded. “…That’s certainly one reason why it’s so important that Congress passed a payroll tax cut extension that will put an average of $40 per paycheck back in the pockets of the average American family’s budget. That certainly is an important step to offering a little bit of a financial cushion to those families.”
He added that Obama has taken “a number of steps related to oil and gas production in this country,” including an exploration agreement with Mexico and additional drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
Earnest was pressed by another reporter on whether Obama was considering tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The spokesman said he wouldn’t speculate on those discussions. “But what I can tell you is that there are plenty of people involved in the political process who are willing to make phony promises about what they can do to address rising gas prices — that if — and I can tell you that they’re empty promises,” Earnest said. “That if there were a magic wand that you could wave, one of the previous presidents would have waved it. Right? This is something that this country has been dealing with for decades.”
“We’ve never seen $5,” the reporter said. “We’ve seen $4. Now we’re going into the possibility of $5.”
“Sure, but we’ve seen gas price spikes that have had a significant impact on our economy and have significantly stretched the budgets of middle-class families all across the country,” Earnest replied. “That’s not a new phenomenon.”
“A lot of middle-class families might feel it was in their best interest to have cheaper gas,” another reporter later noted.
“Well, that’s the point of this discussion, right?” the spokesman said. “…The key here to solving this problem over the long term and making sure that we don’t have to deal with these challenges moving forward, that we’re not susceptible to the spikes and declines in the global oil market, is to make the United States of America finally independent of foreign energy. And that’s the course that the president’s pursuing.”
“Sure, but why not in the short term, too?” the reporter asked.
“Well, as I pointed out, in the short term, what the president has pursued was a payroll tax cut that would put $40 in the pocket of every working — of the average American family every two weeks,” Earnest replied.
Earlier this week, Obama trotted out those who had submitted comments to the White House about what an extra $40 means to them.