EDITOR'S NOTE: “The idea we’re going to be able to, you know, click a switch, bring down the cost of gasoline, is not likely in the near term.” That’s President Biden admitting that there’s really nothing he can do to lower gas prices. His initial plan, to release 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, didn’t make a dent in gas prices. His new federal gas tax holiday will likely save people $18.40 a month at the pump (for a total of three months)b but it hardly makes a difference when monthly gas costs are in the hundreds. Biden is widely blamed for weakening America’s energy independence. The truth is that we were going back and forth on a monthly basis as net exporters and importers through 2020 and 2021. And if we were to combine those years, we were generally net exporters. This Forbes article covers this confusing oscillation, much of it complicated by the pandemic. Ultimately, Russia has us and the rest of the world cornered with regard to food and energy resources. Apparently, the western word is much more reliant on Russia then it is on us. And we are, in a way, paying the price for an ongoing conflict that appears to be nowhere within Biden’s sphere of action and influence.
With people rightly fuming at the pump over record-high gas prices, President Joe Biden recently announced his latest plan for fighting inflation, including elevated prices at the pump. But after months of failed promises that his administration’s actions would yield lower gas prices, he admitted that “we’re not going to be able to click a switch” and “bring down the cost of gasoline.”
The White House first responded to high gas prices on Nov. 23, when the average U.S. retail price for all grades was $3.49 per gallon, up over a dollar from $2.46 when the president was inaugurated in January 2021. The administration argued that the increase was because “oil supply has not kept up with demand as the global economy emerges from the pandemic.” Its response? Releasing 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which the White House said would “lower prices for Americans and address the mismatch between demand exiting the pandemic and supply.”
Unfortunately for consumers, that didn’t lower prices as promised. Average gas prices rose to $3.62 a gallon by the time Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 of this year. On March 31, when the average price was up to $4.33, the White House announced more “actions to lower gas prices at the pump,” including the largest release ever from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But that didn’t lower gas prices, either. The latest U.S. average is $5.11 per gallon — up $1.62 since Biden supposedly acted in November to lower prices and double the price when he was inaugurated. Some foresee prices over $6.00 by August.
In his recent inflation plan, as he has done since late February, the president continued to point the finger of blame for higher pump prices at Russian President Vladimir Putin: “The price at the pump is elevated in large part because Russian oil, gas and refining capacity are off the market.” Biden dropped the “in large part” qualifier in subsequent comments, saying simply that “food and gas prices” are “elevated by Putin’s price hike.”
But the president’s latest statements also do something new. They throw in the towel on previous administration claims of being able to lower gas prices. The best the president could recently muster was a lame statement that “we must mitigate” the effects of price hikes on American consumers, which is entirely different from prior White House promises to straight-up “lower gas prices.” And that supposed mitigation would not result from some new action. Instead, the president defensively reminded readers, “That is why I led the largest release from global oil reserves in history.” That’s a reference to the March action the White House said would lower gas prices but has done nothing of the sort. Other policies the president recommended include congressional action on “clean energy tax credits” (such as bigger tax credits for buying a new Tesla) that have almost no chance of passing.
After months of claiming his administration’s actions would result in lower prices at the pump, the president now seems to accept his inability to do so — at least without antagonizing the political base that cheered his campaign promise to get rid of fossils fuels. After releasing his inflation plan, he admitted that “the idea we’re going to be able to, you know, click a switch, bring down the cost of gasoline, is not likely in the near term.” That’s an abrupt reversal for a president who a few months ago said he had a plan to “ease the pain that families are feeling right now” at the pump.
Matt Weidinger is a senior fellow and Rowe scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Originally published on Washington Examiner.