Congressional Republicans doubled down on President Obama’s “double back flip with a twist,” in the words of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), on the Keystone pipeline, putting a full-court press on the administration’s energy policy Tuesday in the face of climbing gas prices.
The White House, which had been focusing on Tuesday’s auto-bailout victory lap at the United Auto Workers convention, fired back at the offensive before taking any questions at the daily press briefing, accusing GOP leaders of using “demonstrably, categorically false” allegations that the president isn’t for expanding domestic oil and gas production.
“He, being honest with the American people, makes clear that there are no silver bullets here, there are no quick fixes,” press secretary Jay Carney said of Obama’s “all-of-the-above” long-term energy plan.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), joined by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other top Republicans, challenged Obama at a press conference to push several energy and jobs bills stuck in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“The president says he’s for an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy plan. Has anyone seen it?” Bohener said of the White House’s contention that a mix of fossil fuels and alternative energy production is necessary. “I’ve not seen it. And the fact is, is the president blocked the Keystone pipeline, he’s blocked efforts to expand energy production in the Intermountain West, over in the Gulf and in a small portion of Alaska.
“If the president’s serious about working with us to expand energy production in America and to deal with the rising oil prices, it’s time for him to lay his cards on the table,” Boehner said.
The speaker also sent a letter to the president Tuesday accusing the administration of regulations and actions that have served to take traditional energy sources out of “all of the above.”
“Over the last three years, your administration has blocked, slowed, and discouraged the production of critical American energy sources,” Boehner wrote. “You have defended your administration’s record by citing today’s historically high level of domestic oil production. But, as we both know, that production can be attributed mostly to the policies of your predecessor as well as a boom on state and private lands, which lie largely outside of federal control.
“On federal land, energy production fell 11 percent last year, and your draft five-year plan for off shore exploration projects a decline in federal leasing and permitting,” the speaker wrote.
He also urged Obama to expedite TransCanada’s new application for the cross-border northern segment of the Keystone pipeline, after the administration said Monday it “welcomes” a southern leg from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf of Mexico and would move that permitting process along as swiftly as possible.
“We can’t wait for this project to get started,” Boehner wrote of the full pipeline. “…I look forward to discussing this important issue at the earliest convenience.”
Sending Carney out swinging in the afternoon, the White House wasn’t in a mood to discuss, though the press secretary did say there “should be” a chat between the leaders.
“The Speaker of the House apparently spoke with reporters this morning in which he suggested that the president wasn’t in support of expanding domestic oil and gas production, which is demonstrably, categorically false — and suggested that somehow simply by drilling or approving the Keystone XL pipeline, that that would lower gas prices, that would lower prices at the pump,” Carney said. “And that’s the kind of empty promise that politicians make when we face hikes in the global price of oil that is really dishonest, the kind of promises that are dishonest with the American people.”
Carney later said that “calling on the president to approve the Keystone pipeline right away when there isn’t even a proposal that exists for that pipeline to be approved is suggesting to the American people that there is a cause and effect here that doesn’t exist.” The company has to reapply after Obama killed their original application last month, a move the president blamed on pressure from House Republicans.
But Boehner was far from the only legislator on the Hill to take the gas-price fight to Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday.
On the Senate floor in the morning, four lawmakers engaged in a colloquy on pump prices and the Keystone pipeline: Hutchison and Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
Portman noted that gas prices have risen 95 percent over the past three years, with a 17 percent drop in oil production in the Gulf of Mexico from 2010 to 2011.
“We’re not seeing an increase, we’re seeing a decrease” in production, Portman said. “We’ve got to produce it here at home to get away from the OPEC cartel.”
“What the president does favor is the Saudis increasing oil production, and increased use of solar, wind and algae here at home,” Hutchison said. “Mr. President, does that really substitute for an energy policy? Is that something that Americans can count on to increase the supply of energy in our country?”
Blunt referenced a 2008 quote by Obama’s energy secretary, Steven Chu, to the Wall Street Journal. “Somehow,” Chu said, “we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” where now gas averages $9 a gallon in Italy.
“We’re not Europe,” Blunt said. “We’re a big country that is dependent on transportation.”
While “every other country in the world” looks at its natural resources as economic opportunity, though, Blunt charged, the U.S. looks at its energy resources as an “environmental hazard.”
Hoeven, through whose state the completed first phase of Keystone enters the U.S., pulled out charts showing that on Obama’s Inauguration Day the average price of gas per gallon was $1.85. His chart made by staffers Monday was already out of date on Tuesday’s gasoline average, though, by the time he propped it up on the Senate floor: $3.70 a gallon, it read, though the price had jumped two cents.
“The projection is that by Memorial Day gas will be $4 a gallon and by later this summer it could be as much as $5 dollars a gallon,” Hoeven said.
To the White House’s “all-of-the-above” strategy,” he said, “I agree with that. The problem is that the administration is saying that but they’re not doing it. They’re actually blocking oil and gas development in our country.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) criticized the GOP senators’ colloquy on a day that the chamber was supposed to be taking up a highway bill — on which one of the more than 150 amendments filed is a Republican push for Keystone.
“These amendments have absolutely nothing to do with the transportation policies of this country,” Cardin said.
Another is a Blunt amendment on religious freedom and the HHS contraceptive mandate. Blunt later tweeted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will allow a vote on his amendment Thursday.
In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was appearing before the panel to discuss Obama’s budget request, to push for Keystone approval on national security grounds.
“Given the intensity of multiple crises in the Middle East and the certainty that threats to oil supplies are not limited to the current crisis with Iran, it is incomprehensible that the President has rejected approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” Lugar said. “Few national security decisions of the past several decades are more clearly at odds with core U.S. interests than the president’s pipeline delay.”
Lugar added that the delay of the project “sends a signal to markets and our overseas enemies that we are not serious about ending U.S. energy dependence.”
Senators at the Republican Policy Committee lunch received a handout detailing the harm that could result from “a transparent election-year attempt to look like he is doing something about skyrocketing gasoline prices” by tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
“President Obama has still not refilled the 30.64 million barrels of crude oil he plundered from the SPR last year,” the memo states. “If the President were to release another 30 million barrels this year, he would leave the SPR with 665.9 million barrels of emergency oil reserves, a significant reduction from the 727 million barrels the critical reserve contained when he took office.”
On the House side, the Republican Study Committee released an infographic noting that Obama had approved 23 percent of drilling plans so far this year, down from the 73 percent historical average rate for such plans’ approval.
And a number Republicans kept drilling home all day: 830,000, the daily capacity of barrels that could be carried by Keystone XL, or 34 million gallons per day.
“How could the president say that won’t lower the price?” Hutchison said. “How could he say that?”