President Clinton stages war on high gas prices

gas prices

April 29, 1996
Web posted at: 10:50 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Bob Franken

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an effort to drive down rising gasoline prices, President Clinton Monday authorized the sale of about 12 million barrels of oil from the nation's strategic petroleum reserves. He also ordered the Energy Department to review gas prices and recommend possible government action within 45 days.

The president had to do something. From his point of view, skyrocketing gas prices are bad, but getting blamed for them would be worse.

Clinton's opposition was quick to take credit for forcing the president to act. Republicans, including Sen. Robert Dole, Republican Majority Leader, blame the rise in prices on a four cent per gallon federal gas tax enacted in 1993. (61K AIFF sound or 61K WAV sound)


The average price of a gallon of regular gas has increased five cents in the last two weeks to $1.36. The current price is 14 cents a gallon higher than this time a year ago.

One motorist blamed the rise on spring fever, mixed with a little capitalism. "They kind of gouge the price a little to make a little more money during that time, then when vacation is over it goes back down again. It seems to be a pattern," he said. "So if you call that price gouging, then I think it is."


In politics, public outrage over an issue like the price of gas almost always turns into someone's "opportunity." In this case, it was an opportunity for Republicans to attack what they call "President Clinton's gas tax." The tax was part of the president's 1993 deficit reduction package.

"It should never have been imposed to begin with, I'm proud to say I voted against it, and I'd like to get rid of it," said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas.

Republicans see the widespread antagonism over soaring gas prices as their chance to get back at Democrats, who have been battering them for weeks on the minimum wage.


Some Democrats returned the Republican fusillade, believing that the best defense is a good offense. Rep. Ed Markey, D- Massachusetts, was one who cited an "unholy alliance of the big oil companies and Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole." (149K AIFF sound or 149K WAV sound)

As for getting rid of the gas tax, Democrats said they would be willing to discuss it. Republicans take the response as an indication that they have struck a nerve.

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