WASHINGTON — With gas prices approaching $4 a gallon, Republicans and Democrats traded barbs Thursday over which party is to blame for pain at the pump.
House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans said gas prices have doubled since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. Boehner said the Obama administration has "consistently blocked" efforts to increase domestic oil production and blasted what he called a de facto moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
At a news conference Thursday, Boehner and other top Republicans announced a push to expand domestic energy production. The GOP plan would open up oil drilling in Alaska and the Gulf, make it easier to build nuclear power plants and encourage vehicles to use natural gas.
"At a time when our economy is already in a position when it is not creating enough jobs, rising gas prices hurt the very people that we need to lead us out of our economic crisis, and that's small businesses," Boehner said.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., called Boehner's comments off base and said unrest in Libya and other countries was to blame for higher gas prices.
"I find it shocking that Republicans would first attack the president of the United States before pointing a finger at Colonel Gadhafi," Markey, referring to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Markey and other Democrats said a House GOP budget plan would cut spending for renewable energy such as wind and solar and slash money for federal agencies that oversee oil and other commodities.
Instead of giving tax breaks to oil companies, Congress should "enact clean energy solutions that will tell Gadhafi and the Saudis that we don't need their oil any more than we need their sand," Markey said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama believes the United States should maintain domestic energy production "and increase it where we can."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said domestic production has little impact on the price of oil, which is set on the world market.
Still, he and other administration officials say U.S. oil production reached an eight-year high in 2010, despite a five-month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed after the BP oil spill. The Interior Department has issued 37 permits for shallow water drilling in recent months, and issued its first deepwater permit last week, Salazar said.
White House energy adviser Heather Zichal said the administration will continue to monitor oil prices and work to protect consumers, increase responsible production of domestic energy resources and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Obama should resist calls to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as Markey and other Democrats have urged. The reserve contains 727 million barrels of oil and is intended to replenish oil supplies if production is threatened.
White House officials have said they are looking at the nation's oil reserves but have made no decisions.