- The Senate Republican leader rejects ending oil subsidies
- President Obama ridicules Republicans for drill-only energy strategy
- Republicans seek to make high gas prices an election focus
- The White House and Republicans have signaled possible compromise
A day after Republicans signaled possible compromise with the White House on energy issues, President Barack Obama called Thursday for Congress to vote in the coming weeks on ending billions of dollars in subsidies for the oil industry.
"Eliminate this oil industry giveaway right away. I want them to vote on this in the next few weeks," Obama told students at Nashua Community College in New Hampshire. "Let's put every single member of Congress on record: You can stand with oil companies, or you can stand with the American people. You can keep subsidizing a fossil fuel that's been getting taxpayer dollars for a century, or you can place your bets on a clean energy future."
Framing the issue as a major challenge for the students' generation, Obama said developing a broad-based energy policy incorporating all sources -- oil, gas, nuclear, solar, wind and alternatives such as algae -- would take years but was essential for the nation's future economic well-being.
His speech came as gas prices continued to soar around the nation, prompting criticism from Republicans that Obama's policies failed to fully exploit U.S. resources that would help bring down energy costs.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky rejected Obama's call to end the oil subsidies.
"If someone in the administration can show me that raising taxes on American energy production will lower gas prices and create jobs, then I will gladly discuss it," McConnell said in a statement. "But since nobody can, and the president doesn't, this is merely an attempt to deflect from his failed policies."
On the campaign trail Thursday, GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney said Obama sought to take credit for increased U.S. production but should in fact be "hanging his head."
"He doesn't get credit for the increase; he instead has tried to slow the growth of oil and gas production in this country, and coal production in this country," Romney told an enthusiastic audience in Fargo, North Dakota.
Romney and other Republicans say it was policies under the Bush administration that led to today's increased production, and they criticize Obama for stalling a pipeline from Canada as well as other steps that they say hold back more U.S. output.
Obama devoted some of his speech Thursday to stating what he said were the facts -- U.S. production is at its highest level in eight years, with more working oil and gas rigs than the rest of the world combined.
"No matter what you hear from some folks in an election year, a key part of this strategy over the last three years has been to increase safe, responsible oil production here at home," he said.
Obama also took aim at Republican calls for what he described as unlimited drilling and development, saying "anyone who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about -- or they're not telling you the truth."
Meanwhile, Obama's re-election team defended its "all-of-the-above energy strategy" while criticizing Romney for saying "anything to get elected."
"Mitt Romney's backward-looking energy policy does not meet America's complex energy needs today," campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said in a statement. "His tax plan keeps subsidies for big oil and gas companies making billions in profits. And he has made clear he is not concerned about gas prices."
In his remarks, Obama repeated popular lines from previous energy speeches, noting that increased fuel efficiency standards will save the average family $8,000 a year by the middle of next decade and promising to continue investing in clean energy sources.
The rising gas price threatens to slow signs of consistent economic recovery in recent months, and Republican critics have focused on the issue as the November presidential election campaign heats up.
On Wednesday, Republican leaders and the White House sent signals of possible detente on jobs and energy legislation, but they offered few specifics and congressional Democrats questioned whether any progress would ensue.
Obama had a rare luncheon meeting with leaders of both parties in Congress, including McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio -- two of his biggest adversaries in the political wrangling that has brought public scorn of congressional inaction.
Boehner later told reporters that "we discussed a number of areas where I believe there's common ground between the two political parties, particularly on jobs and on energy."
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the lunch meeting "cordial and constructive," and he cited proposals to help small businesses as an area of possible agreement.
Democratic aides declined to give any details or readout on the White House lunch that included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
When Boehner was asked about the assessment by another Congress member that people were feeling better about the economy, he acknowledged that the economy was "a little better," but said rising energy prices were a threat.
One issue discussed Wednesday was the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada's oil sands in northern Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Republicans accuse Obama of putting off a decision on the pipeline until after the November election for political reasons, because his environmentalist supporters oppose the dirtier form of oil production and the risks of a long pipeline through ecologically sensitive regions.
Obama, however, argues it was Nebraska officials, including the Republican governor, who delayed the project by calling for an alternative route to avoid an important water source.
With no alternative route worked out, the president says, Republicans forced his administration to reject a permit application by requiring an immediate decision as part of a December agreement to temporarily extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.
This week, the company building the pipeline said it would proceed with a section from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf Coast that doesn't require federal approval and also reapply for permission to construct the rest of the pipeline across the border from Canada.
"I did press the president on the Keystone pipeline," Boehner said Wednesday. "The president said, 'Well, you're going to get part of it.' "