SAN FRANCISCO – APRIL 22: Gas prices well over $4.00 per gallon are seen displayed at a Shell service station April 22, 2008 in San Francisco, California. The national average for a gallon of regular gas hit a record high of $3.51 as crude oil is trading for near;y $120 a barrel. San Francisco gas is averaging $4.00 per gallon. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
By Coral Davenport
The lawmakers said they hope to introduce a bill by week’s end. House Republicans have kept up a barrage of attacks on Speaker Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., over soaring gasoline prices, and President Bush jumped into the fray Tuesday, saying he was open to all ideas, including a temporary suspension of the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal excise tax on gasoline.
Most proposals being considered at the White House or on Capitol Hill are old ideas left on the cutting room floor during previous efforts to craft energy legislation.
Bush said in at a morning news conference that he is willing to consider a mix of measures from Congress – but he then offered a plateful of old proposals that have been repeatedly rejected, such as opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas exploration.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman said his chamber’s package is “still very much in the works.”
A spokesman for the New Mexico Democrat said that provisions under consideration include a temporary halt in oil deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve – a federal storehouse of crude oil meant to act as a backup in case of a major disruption in oil imports – and a move to rein in speculation on oil prices by tightening federal regulation of oil futures markets.
The package is also likely to include “some kind of tax component,” the spokesman said.
Democrats have been pushing for months to halt shipments to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, saying that consumers would be better served if Bush would not only halt shipments but release oil from the reserve onto the market in order to increase supplies. The reserve today holds 701 million barrels of oil.
The Democrats’ efforts got a boost from Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison , chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, who sent Bush a letter signed by 15 other Republican senators urging him to halt deposits into the reserve.
But Bush said Tuesday he has no intention of halting shipments to the reserve. He said purchases for the reserve “account for 0.1 percent of global demand, and I don’t think that’s going to affect price when you affect 0.1 percent.”
He said it was “in our national interest” to fill the reserve to guard against “a major disruption of crude oil around the world.”
Gas Tax Holiday Proposal
Among the components under discussion in the Senate bill is a proposal by presumed GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona that would suspend the federal gasoline tax over the summer.
Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has endorsed a gas tax holiday, but her rival for her party’s presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois opposes it, arguing that consumers are unlikely to see much savings.
The president said he would be open to considering the proposal, but it has met with skepticism from many in Congress, including Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“It’s a very small amount for a very short period of time, and I don’t think it’s going to resolve anything,” Inhofe said.
Bush reiterated his own longstanding demands for opening ANWR to oil drilling, relaxing environmental regulations to streamline approval of new refineries and expanding oil and gas drilling on public lands.
He said that most solutions to gasoline prices will come over the long run. “There is no magic wand to wave right now,” he said.