Under fire over high gas prices, Obama calls for tighter curbs on oil market manipulation

And he called for enabling the CFTC to raise the so-called margin requirements on oil markets — the amount of money a trader must have on hand to back up a trade position — which could discourage some speculation.

The impact on gas prices of improper market manipulation, which occurs when a trader or group of traders improperly attempts to affect the price of a given commodity, is unclear.

And some consumer advocates worried that the White House focused too much on market manipulation and not enough on speculation, which has been putting upward pressure on prices.

"You want the CFTC to have more cops on the beat, but there's a confusion here. They really have to focus on speculation," said Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets, a non-profit organization that promotes the public interest in capital and commodity markets.

"It's like a town that's suffering from a string of bank robberies and you send all of the cops to the penny-candy store to see whether anything's been stolen," Kelleher told Yahoo News by telephone ahead of Obama's announcement.

Kelleher estimated that "somewhere between 10% and 25% of the price at the pump is likely due to excess speculation — not manipulation."

Obama's proposal fit into his broader election-campaign narrative that he is fighting for ordinary Americans while Republicans fit in the pocket of big business. It also seemed sure to fuel Republican charges of government overreach into the free market.

The announcement came with Republicans using high gas prices to pummel the president, whose reelection hopes turn largely on a fragile recovery that could stall if energy costs rise.

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