Rising Gas Prices
Rising gasoline prices threaten the U.S. economic recovery and will almost surely be a factor in November's presidential election. Reuters

At $3.72, gas prices have been steadily on the rise since December with no sign of slowing down. Economists worry that gas could reach $5 a gallon this summer, posing a threat to consumer spending, curtailing the progress of the U.S. economy and--to the GOP's delight--causing a potentially disastrous impact on President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.

As consumers worry over rising gas prices, Republican presidential candidates have been quick to point an accusatory finger at Obama, citing his hesitation to drill domestically and his delaying action on the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The White House, on the other hand, has historically supported research for alternative energy sources and conservation as long-term solutions. Despite claims from both Obama and the GOP, economists say a president has little to no impact on gas prices.

GOP presidential hopefuls insist, however, that in the face of rising prices Obama is failing the nation and hurting the economy.

The American people want to see [that] the president's trying to do something about it and [that] he's not just sending money outside the country to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, in many cases to the people who don't like us very much, Mitt Romney said at a rally at Western Michigan University. The former Massachusetts governor pledged to finally get our oil and our gas out of the ground.

Similarly, GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has offered his own strategy, Drill Here, Drill Now, calling Obama outrageously anti-American-energy.

I've developed a program for American energy so no future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again, and so every American can look forward to $2.50-a-gallon gasoline, Newt Gingrich said in the GOP debate in Mesa, Ariz. The former speaker of the House has spoken in support for more domestic land and offshore drilling.

GOP candidate Rick Santorum has also offered his perspective as gas creeps towards $4 a gallon. He says the president is purposely trying to keep oil prices high in an effort to promote awareness of global warming -- which Santorum has called a hoax -- and promote research for alternative energy sources.

The president of the United States, when he ran for office, talked about--talked about how he could [raise] prices for gasoline, Santorum said in a speech in Phoenix. Why? Well, because he was concerned about global warming.

They needed to reduce CO2 emissions, Santorum said. Which means you need to drive less. And the only way we could force Americans to drive less was to make it expensive for you to drive...and here we have now a systematic plan in place by this president to, number one, reduce the drilling of oil and gas in this country.

Despite the many claims from the GOP candidates, economists seem to agree that gas prices are often out of the president's control. Experts attribute the rising price of petroleum to tensions in Iran, growing demand as the Chinese and Indian economies boom, and higher demand for oil in the U.S. as the American economy continues to recover. Gasoline prices have also significantly increased around the world, with the price of oil reaching $8 and $9 per gallon in many European countries.

Nonetheless, rising gas prices could still play a major role in the presidential election. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll indicates that, while Obama's approval rating has significantly improved, Americans remain highly concerned about oil prices.

Seven in 10 respondents in the poll said gas prices are deeply important and nearly 39 percent view gas prices as an extremely important issue. While the improving economy has helped Obama's approval rating rise to 48 percent, only 39 percent of respondents approved of Obama's handling of gas prices and 58 percent disapproved.

Whether it's fair or not, the American motoring public has always tended to blame the guy in the White House for high gas prices, CNN's Jack Cafferty said on The Situation Room, claiming American's will look to the president regardless of the cause.

The Obama administration, unsurprisingly, has been quick to respond to the GOP attacks.

Only in politics do people root for bad news, do they greet bad news so enthusiastically, Obama said of Republicans in a speech at the University of Miami. You pay more; they're licking their chops.

And you can bet that since it's an election year, he continued, they're already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas. I'll save you the suspense. Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keep drilling...We've heard the same thing for 30 years. Well, the American people aren't stupid. You know that's not a plan... It's a strategy to get politicians through an election.

The president said there are no short-term answers and that domestic drilling is a dishonest solution to rising prices.

There are no quick fixes to this problem, Obama continued, and you know we can't just drill our way to lower gas prices.

While domestic drilling has soared under the Obama administration, the president has primarily been a staunch supporter of developing new energy sources in an effort to limit America's dependence on foreign oil. The U.S. continues to import about half of its petroleum needs, which leads to increased prices at the pump when international disputes occur.

In addition to promoting research for alternative energy sources, the president has also made an effort to decrease Americans' dependence on foreign oil by promoting fuel efficiency regulations in the U.S. A fuel efficiency standards agreement reached last summer will require cars to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The Obama administration estimates the standards will save 12 billion barrels of oil.

Despite his efforts, rising gas prices still pose a serious threat to Obama's re-election campaign. Economists expect gas prices to rise to $4.25 by Memorial Day, potentially reaching $5 by the summer. It will be hard for voters to ignore the rising prices through the summer months when the demand for oil often increases as Americans travel for vacation.

Republicans will hit him with anything that comes up which makes him look bad, American University political science professor James Thurber told Time magazine. Thurber does not believe, however, that Obama will be hurt by the attacks unless gas goes over $5 a gallon.

If push comes to shove, Obama could always opt this summer to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as he did during the Libyan conflict in the summer of 2011. The emergency reserve is kept in Texas and Louisiana, containing approximately 700 million barrels of oil, which can be refined on average to yield 42 gallons per barrel.

While most economists believe releasing oil from the reserves has a limited and fleeting impact, White House spokesman Jay Carney told Time magazine, We never take options off the table.

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