WASHINGTON -- Soaring gasoline prices threaten to undercut President Barack Obama's re-election prospects and offer Republicans an easy target. With prices pushing $4 a gallon and threatening to go higher, Obama sought Thursday to confront rising public anxiety and strike back at his GOP critics.
"Only in politics do people root for bad news, do they greet bad news so enthusiastically," Obama said of Republicans. "You pay more; they're licking their chops."
Obama said dismissively that all the Republicans can talk about is more drilling -- "a bumper sticker ... a strategy to get politicians through an election" -- when the nation's energy challenges demand much more. In a speech in Miami, he promoted not only expanding domestic oil and gas exploration but also developing new forms of energy.
For all the political claims, economists say there's not much a president of either party can do about gasoline prices, certainly not in the short term. But it's clear that people are concerned -- a new Associated Press-GfK poll says 7 in 10 find the issue deeply important -- so it's sure to be a political issue through the summer.
"Right now, we're experiencing yet another painful reminder of why developing new energy is so critical to our future," the president said.
At an average of $3.58 a gallon, prices are already up 25 cents since Jan. 1, and experts say they could reach a record $4.25 a gallon by Memorial Day.
Higher prices could unravel recent improvements in the economy. Many economists see the $4-a-gallon mark as a breaking point above which the economy starts to suffer real pain.
Analysts estimate that every 1-cent increase is roughly a $1.4 billon drain on the economy.
Presidents are often blamed for rising gas prices, but there's not much they can do. The current increases at the pump have been driven by tensions in Iran and by higher demand worldwide.