The following editorial appeared recently in the Dallas Morning News:

Oil has topped $100 a barrel for the first time since the financial meltdown snapped a bear trap on the U.S. economy.

The nation still hasn't freed itself, and the prospect of increasingly expensive oil isn't making escape any easier.

As oil prices crossed the $100 level last week, Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke tried to reassure Americans that the price spike from political revolt in Libya and Egypt would not scuttle the nation's modest, tenuous economic recovery. Bernanke might be right, but that doesn't mean the nation isn't in line for more economic pain.

Some analysts warn that oil prices could soar to $130 a barrel if the unrest spreads to Saudi Arabia and other key oil producers. Even if oil doesn't reach that level, the price spike already has had an impact. In just the past two weeks, Americans' confidence in the economy has plummeted from the most positive the Gallup organization had measured in the last three years.

Think about your recent trips to the gas station or grocery store. Your dollar isn't going as far today as it did just a few weeks ago. And unlike consumer confidence, rising energy prices seldom come down as quickly as they go up.

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Every additional penny you spend on food or gasoline is a penny you can't spend in the rest of the economy. Consumers will hunker down, businesses won't hire new employees, and banks won't lend to small businesses. The cost of the energy needed to produce and transport food will make groceries more expensive. Adding to the uncertainty are crises faced by bloated federal and state governments that need to make deep cuts. No doubt, economists, many of whom had been forecasting modest economic growth this year based in part on the 11th-hour extension of the Bush tax cuts last year, will be revisiting their predictions.

It's easy to blame our economic uncertainty on political turmoil elsewhere, but there's responsibility closer to home. This energy shock underscores why it's so critical that Congress and the White House resolve the federal budget crisis and wean the nation from an unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels. Without the overhang of out-of-control debt and energy shackles, the U.S. would be much better positioned to withstand this geopolitical price shock.

Until something approaching certainty returns to the chaotic Middle East, oil prices will rise, and we'll continue to feel pain.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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