Friday, March 11, 2011

President Obama On Gas Prices, Energy Strategy & Budget

Mar 11: At a Presidential news conference today, President Obama had some focused comments on the rising gasoline prices; long-term energy strategy; and budget matters that are now being dealt with on a week-by-week basis in the Congress.
    On gasoline prices he said, "Of course, rising prices are not a new phenomenon. Three years ago, before the recession hit, a combination of factors, including rising demand from emerging economies like China, drove gas prices to more than $4 a gallon. The worldwide recession and the decrease in demand pushed prices back down. But over the past year, as the economy has picked up steam and global demand for oil has increased, prices have increased again. Turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East has added uncertainty to the mix and lost production in Libya has tightened supply. . .

    "Here at home, everybody should know that should the situation demand it, we are prepared to tap the significant stockpile of oil that we have in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We're also using the resources at our disposal at the federal level to monitor any possible manipulation in the oil markets. And I'm asking the Attorney General and relevant state -- relevant agencies to work with state attorneys general to monitor for price gouging to make sure that nobody is taking advantage of working families at the pump. In addition, America is better prepared for supply disruptions than we used to be. Today, we use 7 percent less oil than we did in 2005, even as our economy has grown since then, partly because our economy as a whole is more efficient. We're adapting. We're producing more oil and we're importing less. Our automakers, for example, are manufacturing more fuel-efficient cars -- some that now get more than 50 miles to the gallon -- and our consumers are driving more of these cars. . .

    On a longer-term energy strategy, the President said, "Now, the hard truth is, is that as long as our economy depends on foreign oil, we'll always be subject to price spikes. So we've got to get moving on a comprehensive energy strategy that pursues both more energy production and more energy conservation. We need to increase our access to secure energy supplies in the near term, and we've got to make our economy more energy-efficient and energy-independent over the long run. Let me be more specific. First, we need to continue to boost domestic production of oil and gas. Last year, American oil production reached its highest level since 2003. Let me repeat that. Our oil production reached its highest level in seven years. Oil production from federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico reached an all-time high. For the first time in more than a decade, imports accounted for less than half of what we consumed. So any notion that my administration has shut down oil production might make for a good political sound bite, but it doesn't match up with reality. . .

    "There is more we can do, however. For example, right now, the industry holds leases on tens of millions of acres –- both offshore and on land –- where they aren't producing a thing. . . But let's be clear -- it is not a long-term solution. Even if we started drilling new wells tomorrow, that oil isn't coming online overnight. And even if we tap every single reserve available to us, we can't escape the fact that we only control 2 percent of the world's oil, but we consume over a quarter of the world's oil. T. Boone Pickens, who made his fortune in the oil business -- and I don't think anybody would consider him unfriendly to drilling -- was right when he said that "this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of. We can't place our long-term bets on a finite resource that we only control 2 percent of -– especially a resource that's vulnerable to hurricanes, war, and political turmoil.

    "So beyond increased domestic production, if we want to secure our long-term prosperity and protect the American people from more severe oil shocks in the future, the way to do it is to gradually reduce demand and then do everything we can to break our dependence on oil. . . But the bottom line is this. We've been having this conversation for nearly four decades now. Every few years, gas prices go up; politicians pull out the same old political playbook, and then nothing changes. And when prices go back down, we slip back into a trance. And then when prices go up, suddenly we're shocked. I think the American people are tired of that. I think they're tired of talk. We've got to work together -- Democrats, Republicans, and everybody in between -- to finally secure America's energy future. I don't want to leave this for the next President, and none of us should want to leave it for our kids."

    In response to a question on Presidential leadership on budget matters and the latest discussion of another 2-3 week continuing budget resolution (CR), the President said, ". . .with respect to the budget, I think it's important to understand that right now the discussion is about last year's business. We're talking about how to fund the remainder of this fiscal year. This is an appropriations task. . . The Republicans in the House passed a budget that has been now rejected in the Senate. They are not going to get 100 percent of what they want. The Democrats have put forward spending cuts, many of them pretty painful, that give Republicans already half of what they were seeking, because they're the right thing to do. Many of those cuts are ones that were already embodied in the budget that I proposed for 2012. Now, that's been rejected as well. . . both sides are going to have to sit down and compromise on prudent cuts somewhere between what the Republicans were seeking that's now been rejected and what the Democrats had agreed to that has also been rejected. It shouldn't be that complicated. And so what I've done is, every day I talk to my team, I give them instructions in terms of how they can participate in the negotiations, indicate what's acceptable, indicate what's not acceptable. And our expectation is, is that we should be able to get this completed. . ."

    He continued, "But let me just make some broad points about this. Number one, we can't keep on running the government based on two-week extensions. That's irresponsible. We've got a war in Afghanistan going on. We've got a wide range of issues facing the country on a day-to-day basis. And the notion that we can't get resolved last year's budget in a sensible way with serious but prudent spending cuts I think defies common sense. So we should be able to get it done. . . There are going to be certain things that House Republicans want that I will not accept. And the reason I won't accept them is not because I don't think we've got to cut the budget; we do."

    He said certain cuts "don't make sense." He used examples of cutting $800 out of Pell Grants for 8 million kids and eliminating 200,000 Head Start slots that also would mean the layoffs of 55,000 teachers. He said, "we can't stop investing in our people. We can't stop investing in research and development. We can't stop investing in infrastructure -- those things that are going to make us competitive over the long term and will help us win the future." He also said the Republican budget that passed out of the House included a whole range "riders." He said, "These aren't really budget items. These are political statements. . . If Republicans are interested in social issues that they want to promote, they should put a bill on the floor of the House and promote it, have an up or down vote, send it over to the Senate. But don't try to use the budget as a way to promote a political or ideological agenda. . ."

    Access the President's complete press conference text and response to questions (click here).

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