The PJ Tatler

Obama Taps Into Gas-Price Fury After Buffett 'Gimmick'

Fresh off a Senate loss on the Buffett Rule yesterday, President Obama added something to his Tuesday schedule: a push to increase oversight and crack down on “manipulation” in oil markets.

Republicans criticized the Buffett Rule vote, detailed in a bill sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), as a “political gimmick” that would make it appear that the GOP was voting against taxing the rich during a recessionary election year.

Early this morning, the White House quickly pulled together a 9 a.m. conference call with reporters and an 11:10 a.m. Rose Garden statement by the president, who said that both parties should be eager to come together to ease pain at the pump for cash-strapped consumers.

“A few weeks ago, Congress had a chance to stand up for families already paying an extra premium at the pump; congressional Republicans voted to keep spending billions of Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars on more unnecessary subsidies for big oil companies,” Obama said. “So here’s a chance to make amends, a chance to actually do something that will protect consumers by increasing oversight of energy markets.”

The administration also sent out a fact sheet detailing how they plan to push the new market intervention.

“The President is calling on Congress to pass an immediate increase in funding to support at least a six-fold increase in the surveillance and enforcement staff for oil futures market trading at the [Commodity Futures Trading Commission],” it said. “The President is also requesting that Congress provide the CFTC funding for critical IT upgrades to strengthen monitoring of energy market activity.”

Obama is proposing a ten-fold — underlined by the White House for emphasis — increase in maximum civil and criminal penalties for manipulative activity in oil markets.

“The President is also calling on Congress to act immediately to give the CFTC authority to direct exchanges to raise margin requirements to address increased price volatility or prevent excessive speculation or manipulation. This authority will help limit disruptions and reduce volatility in oil markets,” the White House said.

The total funding request for the “cops on the beat” and technology upgrades would be for $52 million in additional FY 12 resources.

“In stark contrast, the House Republican Budget would apply across the board cuts to domestic funding that, if applied to the CFTC would be more than 5 times the amount the CFTC currently spends on monitoring, oversight and enforcement staff in energy markets,” the administration wrote in bold italics.

“The president is right to ramp up efforts to combat excessive speculation in oil and gas, which adds at least 50 cents to the cost of every gallon of gasoline,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. “Giving regulators more powerful tools to go after excessive speculation by allowing regulators to set margin limits would be a major advance.”

Waiting for GOP reaction after Obama yet again tried to put Congress on the spot on a hot election-year issue…