President Barack Obama is confronting Americans' anxiety over rising gasoline prices by drawing attention to his energy policies and taking credit for rising oil and gas production, a greater mix of energy sources and decreased consumption.
Obama is heading to Florida on Thursday to promote an energy strategy that the administration says will reduce dependence on foreign oil in the long term. But Obama's pitch will also have a subtext: that the federal government can do little to halt the current rise in gasoline prices.
Obama will speak at the University of Miami and tour the school's Industrial Assessment Center, which trains students as industrial energy-efficiency experts. The program is one of 24 across the country.
White House advisers believe Obama needs to address the recent spike in gasoline prices, even though they see it as a cyclical occurrence. The current $3.58 per gallon is the highest price at the pump ever for this time of year.
Obama aides worry that the rise in prices could reverse the country's economic gains and the president's improved political standing. A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that though Obama's approval rating on the economy has climbed, 58 percent disapprove of what he's doing on gas prices.
Republicans have seized on the issue, citing Obama's decision to reject a permit for a cross-country oil pipeline as evidence of a misguided policy. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has warned of $5-a-gallon gas, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said he could lower prices to $2.50 a gallon.
White House officials point to increased oil production and decreased consumption as evidence that Obama's policies are working and will lead to greater energy independence in the long run. But they assert there is little Obama — or any president — can do to change the trajectory of prices now.
Despite more domestic oil and less consumption, "these prices are going up, and that tells you that there are other things beyond our control, like unrest in the Middle East or other factors like the growth of emerging countries such as China and India," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
To be sure, oil and gas production has increased during the Obama administration, though the trend began during the presidency of George W. Bush, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The increase has reversed a decline that began in 1986, and the agency projects that by 2020 oil production will reach a level not seen since 1994.
The agency also has reported a drop in petroleum consumption, caused by the economic downturn after the 2008 recession, new efficiencies and changes in consumer behavior.
While in Florida, Obama also plans to raise money, including a $30,000-a-person event at the Windermere home of Dallas Mavericks guard Vince Carter. An avid basketball fan, Obama will attend a dinner Thursday at Carter's house just three days before the NBA All-Star Game in nearby Orlando.
Obama also will attend fundraising events at the Biltmore Hotel and at the Coral Gables home of lawyer Chris Korge, a top fundraiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.
Last week, Obama took a three-day West Coast trip and raised about $8 million in eight campaign events.