The combination of historically high gasoline prices and oil
production cutbacks, announced Wednesday by OPEC, has created a high-
octane mix for a presidential campaign with issues to burn.
One of Americans' most basic pocketbook concerns, the price
consumers pay at the gas pump, is suddenly at the forefront of
national politics - and raising the question of what policy makers
can do about it.
The concerns, coming with summer driving season just around the
corner, prompted both President Bush and his Democratic challenger,
John Kerry, to go into attack mode on the issue Tuesday. Then,
Wednesday, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed
to cut production by 4 percent, raising concerns of a further rise
in energy prices.
Jimmy Carter hasn't necessarily resurfaced in his cardigan
sweater, but the era of gas being cheaper than bottled water seems
to have ended with a jolt. Amid concern about rising clout for the
OPEC cartel and tighter supplies looking forward, pressure could
build on both President Bush and Senator Kerry to define, and
defend, their energy policies. Bush, in particular, could be
"Presidents usually face trouble when prices go up, and gas
prices in particular," says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at
Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "It doesn't matter
what the actual causal link is, presidents usually get blamed."
At stake in the presidential race are two sharply contrasting
strategies on energy policy. President Bush is urging opening new
sources of production, including protected offshore sites and the
Alaskan wilderness. John Kerry's signature environmental issue in
the Senate has been energy conservation, especially raising the
standards for fuel efficiency for light trucks and sport-utility
Recent gas prices have hit levels not seen since the Department
of Energy began keeping tracking at US pumps at the beginning of the
Experts say it is not clear what the actual impact will be at the
pumps of OPEC's decision to lower oil targets to 23.5 million
barrels a day.
Specter of $40 per barrel
Some analysts said it could push prices above the psychologically
important barrier of $40 per barrel. But Michael Lynch, president of
Strategic Energy and Economic Research Inc., suspects the price of
crude oil will drop to about $25 a barrel by the end of the second
quarter in the US. He says world production exceeds demand by 2
million to 3 million barrels per day.
The OPEC cut amounts to about 1 million b.p.d., starting
Several factors are key to the price, including rising demand in
places such as China, plus non-OPEC supplies - such as rising
production Russia and Iraq.
Also, quotas are not often respected by the OPEC's 11 members,
who together account for about a third of the world's oil
production. But for a president who once called on President Clinton
to "jawbone" OPEC into increasing production, the move is a symbolic
At a rally in San Diego - where gasoline prices hit $2.13 this
week - John Kerry blasted the White House for failing the nation at
the gas pump and just letting the problem "fester." He pledged to
move the nation toward energy independence by adding 500,000 new
jobs in renewable- energy fields in his first term in office.
"For three years, George Bush and Dick Cheney have bent over
backwards to help their big contributors in the oil industry. …