It’s what you wanted me to ask the president about and he guessed the topic immediately: gas prices.
The question came from Louise Ross, of Chester, NH: “Why not release at least some of the oil in our reserves before gas reaches $5 a gallon? If that's a 'rainy day fund' it's pouring out! Give us a break.”
“We are monitoring the situation very closely. But the strategic petroleum reserve was designed for when oil actually shuts off. It wasn’t supposed to be there…to monitor prices. Having said that I understand how big of a strain this is on family budgets,” President Obama told me in my exclusive interview.
“But you’re not ready to release the reserves yet?” I asked.
“The reserves, I think, are something that we’ve got to be very careful about. Typically were used during disruptions. For example, during Hurricane Katrina when refineries just shut down. And what we don’t want to do is catch ourselves in a situation, particularly when things are uncertain in the Middle East, where we’re using it now and it turns out we need more later,” he said.
“We have to make sure that we are improving fuel efficiency standards on cars, which we’ve already done. We’ve got to make sure that we’re developing alternative fuels like electric cars and biofuels and– and– natural gas as a strategy for reducing our consumption on oil. We have to increase oil production here. But we’ve got to do it carefully. So, we’re going to have to have a comprehensive package,” he added.
The president also pushed back at the tough response from top Republicans to his blistering speech on the budget deficit – particularly on Rep. Paul Ryan comments that Obama is “poisoning wells.”
“Look if you look at my speech yesterday it was not so much a critique of what the House Republicans have proposed as it was a description of what they’ve proposed,” he told me.
So how can he find common ground between two fundamentally different positions?
“Everybody now agrees that the deficit has to be cut. Everybody is roughly at the same figure in terms of what we need to do over the next ten years. $4 trillion over the next ten to 12 years,” Obama said. “And as we saw in these last negotiations, we can come up with some very serious spending cuts that Democrats and Republicans can agree helps to put us on the right path. The key from my perspective is making sure that it’s balanced.”
“What I wanted to do yesterday…is to make very clear to the American people that we have a choice. We can’t get everything the government offers and not pay for it. And I think everybody agrees on that,” he said.
But the president sure seemed to signal that a big deal involving tax increases isn't going to happen anytime soon, saying that it is a choice he and his Republican opponents will put before the country in 2012- and it's up to them.