President Biden and congressional Democrats are rushing to blame rising gas prices on Middle Eastern oil-producing countries in their latest effort to deflect responsibility for pain at the pump ahead of the midterms.
Biden and top Democrats have excoriated Saudi Arabia and other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+) publicly for deciding to cut oil production this month. They argue that the decision, coupled with energy markets being scrambled by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, is driving up gasoline prices at a time when the U.S. is besieged by 40-year high inflation.
“I was able to bring gasoline down well over $1.60, but it’s inching up because of what the Russians and the Saudis just did,” Biden told a Maryland audience this month.
Biden and Democrats have blamed a variety of sources over the past months. Last year, as gasoline prices began to climb, Democratic lawmakers accused energy companies of price-gouging to profit off the lingering supply chain crisis.
“At a time when Americans are paying record high prices for gas, Big Oil is taking advantage of the instability caused by Russia’s unjust war in Ukraine and our ongoing economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to rake in record profits,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said this year.
The argument shifted after Russia, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, launched an unprovoked attack on Ukraine. In the wake of the war’s onset, Democrats began to argue that sanctions against Russian oil were the reason for rising gasoline prices.
White House officials even coined the term “Putin’s price hike” when referring to the pain consumers were feeling at the pump.
The narrative shifted again after the Supreme Court signaled it would overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide. As Democrats began to paint Republicans as “MAGA extremists” for opposing abortion, Biden accused GOP lawmakers of being responsible for rising gas prices by refusing to support his administration’s party-line spending package.
At other times, Democrats have blamed rising prices on state governments and the shipping industry. Biden and White House staff have claimed that state governments should be doing more to lower prices by scrapping taxes on gasoline. Likewise, they’ve said that shipping and cargo companies have struggled to keep up with demand because of supply chain bottlenecks.
“Every week he’s trying to blame someone different,” said House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican. “He tried blaming Putin, then he tried blaming the oil companies, he actually blamed it on COVID at one point … the one thing he hasn’t done is look in the mirror and blame himself.”
Critics say Biden’s policies have made domestic energy production more difficult, forcing the U.S. to rely on foreign countries and OPEC+. The view is shared by at least one Democratic lawmaker.
“It is unconscionable for America, with our abundant natural resources that can be produced cleaner than anywhere else in the world, to continue relying or consider increasing reliance on authoritarian regimes to do for us what we can do for ourselves,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
According to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, average prices at the pump rose about 12 cents during week OPEC announced it was cutting oil production. Prices as of Oct. 10 were at $3.91 cents per gallon. The week Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the price was at $3.41 cents. The week Biden took office, the price was $2.28.
Democrats’ search for a boogeyman underscores just how volatile politically the issue is in a country where more people drive than use public transportation. In recent decades, both Democrats and Republicans have seen their political fortunes fall as prices spiked at the pump.
In the late 1970s, Democrats lost seats in Congress to Republicans, after which President Carter was voted out in the GOP landslide of 1980. Republicans found themselves on the opposite side in 2006 and 2008 when rising gas prices helped usher in a Democratic Congress and White House.
“No one wants to be president when gas prices start inching upward,” said Myron Ebell, the director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s center for energy and environment. “Biden and Democrats are facing that reality right now, and that’s why you’re seeing them cast blame widely.”