Democrats blamed Wall Street speculators while Republicans continued to point fingers at President Obama on Wednesday as the political battle over high gasoline prices intensified on Capitol Hill.
“This is not a question of supply and demand. It’s a question of fear and greed,” said House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Edward Markey, D-Mass., calling for a crackdown on trading in oil futures that can push fuel prices upward.
“It is time to shut down this crude-oil casino,” Markey said during a press conference in the Capitol with House Financial Services Committee ranking member Barney Frank, D-Mass., whose Wall Street reform bill enacted in 2010 requires greater oversight of energy speculators by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
On the other side of the aisle, Senate Republicans on Wednesday redoubled their attacks on the president for high gas prices. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took to the floor to accuse Obama of double-talk on everything from offshore oil drilling to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
“The hypocrisy here is stunning,” McConnell said. “I mean, how could a White House that is single-handedly blocking one half of the pipeline to appease an extreme segment of its political base now claim to support the southern half of the same pipeline?”
McConnell was referring to news this week that the company seeking to build the cross-border Keystone pipeline, TransCanada, will start construction of a section in the U.S. from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast. The White House issued a statement in support of the plan after it was announced on Monday.
Obama rejected a permit for the entire 1,700-mile pipeline in January because he said a GOP-forced deadline for a decision was both rushed and arbitrary. Republicans have been kicking the decision as a political football ever since, especially as gas prices have steadily risen in the past several weeks.
The average price of gasoline nationally was $3.73 per gallon on Wednesday, up 15 cents from a week ago and 31 cents from a month ago, according to AAA.
The volatile topic was the focus of press conferences and floor speeches throughout the day on Wednesday, and even found its way into a House Financial Services Committee hearing featuring Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Bernanke argued that high oil prices do threaten to add to inflation, but only temporarily and that the overall effect of price increases would remain “subdued.”