by Philip Wegmann
The average price for a gallon of gas has fallen below what it was one year ago, and the White House is preparing to go on the offense politically as consumers see more money in their pockets ahead of the holidays. The administration argument? Thank President Biden.
Republicans were only half-joking when they insisted not long ago that they only needed to campaign outside of gas stations to win back congressional majorities. But Democrats held back the GOP in the Senate; AAA reported Wednesday that the national average for a gallon of gas was $3.50, and the administration would very much like to revisit that past criticism.
A White House memo obtained first by RealClearPolitics argues that Republicans, in particular House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Florida Sen. Rick Scott, were wrong when they blamed Biden for increased gas prices and called for the repeal of the Inflation Reduction Act.
“After standing with Big Oil over the President’s work to deliver relief for families, and with lies over facts, congressional Republicans need to answer a fundamental question,” Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, wrote in a memo.
“Now that gas prices are plunging with the Inflation Reduction Act firmly in place, will they reverse themselves and stop calling for raising energy costs on the middle class, and for killing American manufacturing jobs in red states while keeping more overseas?”
While Republicans sought to pin higher prices on Democrats, the White House memo notes that Biden was making “historic deployments from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve” and putting “Big Oil” on notice for keeping prices high even “as they made record profits.”
On that former question, conservatives did not hold back during the fall. Ohio Sen.-elect JD Vance told RCP that Biden’s decision to tap the reserve was a craven political move meant to shore up Democratic chances ahead of the midterms. Vance called it “the most politically selfish thing an American president has done in recent memory.”
Ahead of the holidays, the White House plans on savoring the rebuttal, particularly as it relates to the Inflation Reduction Act.
“Throughout the year, Republicans in Congress accused the president’s achievements for the middle class of being to blame for gas prices, demanding that historic laws needed to be repealed in order for gas prices to go down,” the memo reads.
Over the summer, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee argued that legislation, now law, would push energy prices higher and “disproportionately harm middle- and lower-income households through higher prices at the pump and bigger utility bills.” The president, they argued, was pushing “a regressive tax” on regular Americans.
Industry lobbyists, like the American Gas Association, also warned at the time that such a move ran contrary to Biden’s promise not to impose “new taxes on lower-income Americans.”
The White House rebuttal: “Gas prices are down. And those laws have not been repealed.”
Gas prices, the most visible sign of inflation, have been top-of-mind for both parties for much of the year. In the White House, Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, obsessively pores over data from AAA and other outlets, regularly tweeting out news of prices drops when they occur. One projection by the site GasBuddy, that gas prices could even drop below $3 before Christmas, made the White House ecstatic.
The pain consumers felt throughout the last year, the White House memo argues as the administration has all year, was not the result of any regulatory actions by the president. Instead, the spike was the result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and lingering pandemic related pressures. For proof, the memo points to two headlines that Republicans likely read past before November.
The New York Times story from March reads, “Republicans Wrongly Blame Biden for Rising Gas Prices.” Another, this one from the Washington Post in July, “The bogus GOP claim that Biden is responsible for higher gasoline prices.”
But it is a tricky business taking credit for gas prices when they are down. Economists note that the reasons for spikes and falls are not always simple, let alone politically expedient. Many see the return to 2021 levels as the result of diminished demand ahead of a recession, as well as COVID jitters as China confronts new outbreaks of the virus.
“We’re heading into serious recession in Europe and further economic slowdown in the U.S. as people struggle with high interest rates and worry about their personal wealth and savings,” Ben Cahill, an energy security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Washington Post. “Add it all up and it creates a bleak picture for oil demand. Prices are reflecting that.”
A spokesman for the Scott office replied that of course the senator wants to see gas prices fall but said that the White House was prematurely taking credit.
“It’s not lost on the American people that Biden is trying to take credit for gas prices today that just months ago he said he had no control over. And everyone sees Biden negotiating in secret with murderous dictators like Maduro to get foreign oil, instead of support domestic production here at home,” McKinley Lewis, Scott’s spokesman, told RCP.
“If Biden wants his energy agenda to be taken seriously and actually benefit families, he can start by putting American energy over weak appeasement and finally allow the U.S. to be energy independent again,” he added.
That analysis has not dampened the mood inside the West Wing, however, where White House aides were sharing screenshots from cable news heralding the price drop. “Don’t just take our word for it,” tweeted Biden spokesman Abdullah Hasan alongside an infographic from Fox Business showing the national average for a gallon of gas in 2022 dropping below what it was in 2021.
– – –
Philip Wegmann is White House Correspondent for Real Clear Politics. He previously wrote for The Washington Examiner and has done investigative reporting on congressional corruption and institutional malfeasance.
Photo “Gas Price” by Chris Waits. CC BY 2.0.