Obama Sets Gas Prices? Just Another G.O.P. Myth
The issue of gas prices has not only been misunderstood but thoroughly distorted by relentless ideological spin from industry and its political allies, mainly Republican. Hardly a day goes by that some industry cheerleader somewhere — be it Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana or Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma — does not flay President Obama for driving up oil prices by denying the industry access to oil and gas deposits and imposing ruinous environmental rules. Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, said last week that Mr. Obama should be held “fully responsible for what the American public is paying for gasoline.”
If only the president had the power to give us $2.50-a-gallon gasoline, as Newt Gingrich promised to do if he got to the White House. It is ridiculous to think that a president can.
One can sympathize with consumers feeling the pain of higher gas prices. But the fundamental truth is that those prices are tied to the price of oil, set by world markets. There are peaks and valleys, but their causes — a worldwide recession, an embargo or conflict in the Middle East — are beyond the control of any one country. As the chart below shows, gasoline prices rise and fall in the same pattern throughout the world. Americans historically pay much less at the pump because they pay lower taxes; when the price of a gallon spikes at $3.70 in the United States, it is closer to $8 in, say, Germany.
Because oil is a global commodity, increasing domestic production will do very little to bring down retail prices, although it does help narrow the trade deficit as America spends less on imports. On this score, America is doing much better than the Republicans will admit. In 2005, oil imports accounted for nearly 60 percent of America’s daily consumption. In 2010, for the first time in recent memory, imports were less than half of consumption, and last year, imports were only 45 percent — 8.6 million barrels a day of the 19 million consumed. There are two reasons for this welcome shift: production is up and oil consumption is down. Production of crude oil and other liquid fuels, onshore and offshore, reached about 10.3 million barrels daily in 2011, its highest level since the late 1980s.