WASHINGTON, June 18, 2008— -- As the presidential election revs into high gear, President Bush drilled the "Democratic-controlled Congress" for opposing White House energy policies, which he said has resulted in the rise of "gas prices to record levels."
"If Congressional leaders leave for the Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act. And Americans will rightly ask how high oil -- how high gas prices have to rise before the Democratic-controlled Congress will do something about it," Bush said in the Rose Garden.
Bush also inserted himself in the middle of the heated presidential race by reversing a long-held executive position on offshore oil drilling. The president proposed lifting a ban that he has signed annually and was strengthened by his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and extended by former President Clinton until 2012.
Urging Congress to make the first move on the legislative ban, Bush said, "There's also an executive prohibition on exploration in the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf]. When Congress lifts the legislative ban, I will lift the executive prohibition."
Bush and McCain in Energy Embrace
By proposing the policy reversal, Bush in turn, aligned himself with Sen. John McCain, the all but certain Republican nominee, who also changed his tune on offshore drilling earlier this week as gas prices jumped above $4.00 a gallon.
"I believe it is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions and to put our own reserves to use," McCain told a crowd Tuesday in Houston before the president made his announcement today.
The White House press office told reporters that the president has held such views on reversing offshore drilling policy for some time, and he wasn't following McCain on the issue.
McCain, who strikes an awkward balance of distancing himself from the unpopular president both physically and on policy matters, while trying not to alienate those Republicans loyal to the president, did not seem to welcome the White House energy symmetry, and resisted the "third-term Bush" claims from his Democratic opponent Sen. Barack Obama.
"When I announced this policy the other day, Sen. Obama wasted no time in mischaracterizing it. He described my position as -- you guessed it -- another example of Bush's third term," McCain said today in Missouri. "I guess the senator has changed his position since voting for the 2005 Bush energy bill -- a grab-bag of corporate handouts that I opposed."
However, Democrats were quick to pick up on the Bush-McCain energy embrace.
"After admitting he doesn't understand the economy, Sen. McCain is now trying to pass off failed Bush policies that have undermined America's energy security, our national security and our economy as his 'new' approach to energy independence," Democratic National Committee Communications Director Karen Finney said.
'Years' Until Relief at the Pump
Regardless of politics, Bush admitted his new proposals would not be an instant fix.
"The proposals I've outlined will take years to have their full impact," he said.
However, he argued that lifting the ban on offshore drilling could produce 18 billion barrels of oil in the future.
The president said restrictions on offshore drilling have become "outdated and counterproductive," and urged Congress to act on three other proposals in addition to offshore drilling. The other proposals include opening exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, expanding and enhancing U.S. refineries, and leasing land for shale exploration in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.
Democrats in Congress refute the president, saying shale is at least 10 years from commercial development, because technology isn't mature enough.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., dismissed Bush's proposals, saying oil companies need to change their ways.
"We have to look to the reality," Durbin said. "The reality is oil companies are making profits at record-breaking levels. The reality is that speculation is driving the price of oil up. And the reality is that the president of the United States has yet to call the oil company executives into the Oval Office to tell them they're wrecking the economy."
He added that oil companies already have the rights to drill on 68 million acres of American soil that aren't currently under development.
Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.