As the high cost of gasoline takes a toll on politics and pocket books, President Obama said Tuesday he is calling on major oil producers such as Saudi Arabia to increase their oil supplies to help stabilize prices, warning starkly that lack of relief would harm the global economy.
"We are in a lot of conversations with the major oil producers like Saudi Arabia to let them know that it's not going to be good for them if our economy is hobbled because of high oil prices," Obama told a Detroit television station.
His remarks signaled a broad new appeal in the face of skyrocketing gasoline prices in the United States. He also reiterated a call for Congress to repeal oil industry tax breaks.
In interviews Tuesday with WXYZ in Detroit and in WKTR in Hampton Roads, Va., Obama said the message to major oil producers like Saudi Arabia is that an economy that buckles because of high oil prices won't grow and won't be good for them or for the United States.
Obama acknowledged disruptions in oil production because of the war in Libya. But he said others can make up the difference and "we're pushing them to do so." Libya supplied less than 2 percent of world demand. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries already are covering some of that shortage by boosting production.
The president's effort to compel more overseas production echoed calls by President George W. Bush in 2008 urging Saudi Arabia to increase supplies during that year's spike in gasoline prices. The Saudis rebuffed Bush's efforts.
Gas pump prices have climbed for 35 consecutive days. The national average rose by a penny to hit $3.87 a gallon Tuesday, more than a dollar higher than a year ago. The price already has exceeded $4 a gallon in some regions of the country, including Western New York.
In a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday, Obama urged them to take steps to repeal oil industry tax breaks, reiterating a call he made earlier this year in his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. The White House conceded that plan would do nothing in the short term to lower gasoline prices.
The president wrote a day after House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said he was willing to "take a look at" repealing the multibillion-dollar tax subsidies enjoyed by the major oil companies. Boehner aides sought Tuesday to clarify Boehner's stance, stressing that he was not advocating repeal of the tax breaks.
"He has said all along that he is opposed to raising taxes," Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said. "That's his position."
Rising gas prices have become a political weight for the White House, with polls showing that as the cost rises at the pump, the president's approval ratings have slipped. Obama increasingly has sought to display action on oil, even as he concedes no immediate way to stem costs.
The Republican response to the president's letter was dismissive.
Brendan Buck, another Boehner spokesman, said Obama's suggestions "would simply raise taxes and increase the price at the pump." And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, "The president's latest call to raise taxes on U.S. energy is as predictable as it is counterproductive."
Blaming the subsidies on "outdated tax laws," Obama said money obtained from repealing the breaks should be spent on clean energy programs to reduce dependence on foreign oil.