President Obama said Thursday that there are no "quick fixes" for rising gasoline prices that are threatening the economic recovery and providing fodder for attacks from his political rivals.
Gas prices have risen 29 cents per gallon since December, at a time of year when consumers usually enjoy a respite from price hikes.
The high cost could turn into an election-year mess for the president, whose approval ratings have surged recently as the economy improved. Republicans, sensing an opportunity, have blamed Obama for not giving oil companies greater freedom to drill for new U.S. supplies that might ease prices.
They also cite the administration's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.
The political dynamics are muddied by the Iran factor. In their debate Wednesday, the leading GOP presidential candidates vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The rise in oil prices has been augmented by the tightening of U.S. and European sanctions on Iran and its oil exports. The sanctions were imposed in response to its nuclear work.
Some Democrats are urging Obama, who has pressured other nations to curtail purchases of Iranian oil, to protect consumers by releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as he did during the Libyan conflict last summer. Most presidents are reluctant to tap the reserve without a dire emergency. Many experts believed the release last year had a fleeting impact on gas prices.
In an appearance Thursday at the University of Miami, where he toured an engineering program for energy efficiency, Obama told hundreds of students that his GOP rivals who are pledging to slash prices are "rooting for bad news" to win political points.
"Since it's an election year, they're already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas. I'll save you the suspense: Step One is drill, Step Two is drill, and Step Three is keep drilling," he said. "Well, the American people aren't stupid. You know that's not a plan It's a strategy to get politicians through an election. You know there are no quick fixes to this problem, and you know we can't just drill our [way] to lower prices."
GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum has blamed Obama's "radical environmental policies" for the higher prices, suggesting he aims to keep prices high to stave off global warming by discouraging people from driving. Newt Gingrich said Obama "has been outrageously anti-American energy."
The Republican National Committee released a Web video Thursday that features a clip of Obama's impromptu singing of "Sweet Home Chicago" during a White House blues concert behind a chart showing gas prices rising from $1.85 per gallon when he took office in 2009 to $3.59 this month. The ad is titled "Obama's Got America Singing the Blues."