Gas Prices, Not the Deficit, Ignite Voter Interest

Epic battles loom to tackle the ballooning federal budget deficit and national debt. The United States is trying to extricate itself from two wars and avoid getting sucked into a new one in Libya. Federal and state officials grapple with how to bring down spiraling health care costs.

But what's really on the collective American consciousness are rising gas prices.

President Barack Obama found himself in the awkward spot of talking about gas prices instead of his plans to cut the federal budget, get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and boost U.S, exports. His audience didn't exactly like his answers.

With gas prices nearing or exceeding the $4 per gallon mark, many Americans want something done now. Obama has rejected the most direct form of intervention – tapping the U.S. strategic oil reserve. The President said as bad as high gas prices are now, the situation could get worse with increasing levels of instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

Obama has touted solutions such as converting to more all-electric or hybrid vehicles. But that won't do much to lower gas prices during the summer vacation season.

With an election year approaching, the Obama team figured it better come up with something with more political appeal. So the Administration announced this week formation of a task force on gas prices. Its objective is to ensure oil companies and others don't take advantage of the average American motorist.

The immediate target of the task force is an investigation into potential manipulation and fraud of oil markets. Attorney General Eric Holder said there is no current evidence of manipulation and fraud, but it doesn't hurt to look. Nobody likes speculators when prices hit the roof.

A more likely and inevitable political target are existing government subsidies to oil companies. Recent polling indicates a majority of Americans attribute rising gas prices to "oil companies that want to boost profits" rather than changes in global oil market conditions. Obama has railed before about $4 billion in subsidies at a time when oil companies have posted record profits and motorists are digging deeper to pay at the gas pump.

Potential GOP presidential candidates haven't missed the trend. They have lambasted Obama for a weak response. Would-be contender Donald Trump said the country needs a president who will tell OPEC nations to lower their prices. Others have called for more liberal policies to allow offshore oil drilling.

While major, future-shaping debates rage, election politics has turned, not altogether surprisingly, to a personal pocketbook issue.

Photo by brownpau. Some Rights Reserved.