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$4 Gasoline? It's News to Bush

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - March 3, 2008
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$4 Gasoline? It's News to Bush
By Maura Reynolds, Michelle Quinn and Ronald D. White
The Los Angeles Times

When asked about the possibility of the price going that 
high, president says, "That's interesting, I hadn't heard 
that." He also says a tax hike on oil companies would drive 
the price up further. 

Washington - The prospect of sharply higher fuel prices, 
including $4-a-gallon gasoline, may not have made it 
into Oval Office briefing books, perhaps explaining why 
President Bush was surprised Thursday when a reporter 
mentioned what energy analysts are saying could happen 
soon in many parts of the country. 

"Wait, what did you just say? You're predicting $4-a-gallon 
gasoline?" Bush responded to a reporter who said some 
analysts expect prices to soon climb that high. "That's 
interesting. I hadn't heard that.... I know it's high now." 

The price of oil set another record Thursday, jumping $2.95 
to close at $102.59 a barrel in New York futures trading. 

But even before the recent surge in oil prices, analysts 
were predicting that the average price of a gallon of 
gasoline could reach $3.75 nationwide in the near term 
and top $4 in states such as California and Hawaii. 

Bush's acknowledged unfamiliarity with the recent cost of 
gasoline produced some fumes at the pump. 

At a Shell service station in the Bay Area city of San 
Mateo, the price of a gallon of regular had already reached 
$4.29, well above the state average of $3.42, as measured 
by the AAA auto club. 

"Bush is out of touch with a lot of things we are facing 
today," said 33-year-old Marisa Cajbon, who was filling her 
Toyota Sequoia SUV with the expensive fuel. "I have to buy 
gas. I need to work. I have two kids. I think it's 
unfortunate. I think it's a crime." 

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Not surprisingly in a presidential election year, Bush's 
remark provoked comparisons to his father, George H. W. 
Bush, who took a serious political hit in 1992 after 
appearing to be out of touch with Americans' everyday 
lives. 

The current occupant of the White House isn't seeking 
reelection, but Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack 
Obama immediately seized on the gasoline issue, accusing 
the younger Bush of failing to understand the hardships 
ordinary Americans are facing as prices rise and the 
economy falters. 

"When I hear George Bush say that he doesn't think we're 
in a recession, when somebody tells him that, you know, 
gasoline prices might reach $4 a gallon and he says, 
'That's interesting. I didn't know that'.... That's a 
sign we have a Washington that is out of touch," the 
senator from Illinois said to cheers and laughter from 
a crowd of about 2,000 at a campaign stop in Beaumont, 
Texas. 

Obama's rival for the nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham 
Clinton of New York, expressed concern about fuel costs 
during a visit with two families in Pomeroy, Ohio. "We 
need to give more authority to the government to go after 
these oil companies to ask the hard questions," she said. 

During a White House news conference, Bush tried to put 
the best spin on months of bleak economic news. "I don't 
think we're headed to a recession, but no question we're 
in a slowdown," Bush said. 

In his second day of congressional testimony, Federal 
Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke repeated his warning 
that the U.S. economy faces a triple threat of declining 
growth, recurring credit crunches and rising inflation. 
But in contrast to his assessment Wednesday, the central 
bank chief shared a note of optimism on the nation's odds 
of dodging the worst of the problems. 

Bernanke told the Senate Banking Committee that he didn't 
see much danger of so-called stagflation, the combination 
of falling growth and rising prices that ravaged the 
economy three decades ago. 

"I don't think we're anywhere near the situation that 
prevailed in the 1970s," Bernanke said. 

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However, he acknowledged that higher food and fuel prices 
were creating "inflationary stress" that could make it 
tougher for the Federal Reserve to keep the economy out 
of recession by cutting interest rates. 

Bernanke's testimony came as the Commerce Department 
reported that the gross domestic product, the broadest 
gauge of the nation's output of goods and services, grew 
at a weak 0.63% rate in the fourth quarter of last year. 
Economists had hoped that the GDP number, which the govern-
ment had estimated at 0.6%, would be revised substantially 
upward. 

Bush said he understood that uncertainty about the economy 
was hard on American consumers. But he said the answer was 
for Congress to make the tax cuts he pushed through in his 
first term permanent. Many lawmakers have balked, arguing 
that those reductions have led to a dangerously large 
federal budget deficit. 

"If you're out there wondering... what your life is going 
to be like and you're looking at $4 a gallon, that's 
uncertain," Bush said. "And when you couple with the idea 
that taxes may be going up in a couple of years, that's 
double uncertainty." 

The average U.S. pump price was $3.16 a gallon Thursday, 
according to AAA, but higher in many regional markets. 

Roy Persinco, who filled up his Ford 250 pickup truck for 
$3.25 a gallon at a Santa Monica Shell station Thursday, 
said he spent $125 a week on gas. 

"I can't believe that an ex-oilman could be so unaware and 
ignorant of what is going on around him in the real world, 
but I'm sure his old buddies in the oil industry can tell 
him they're doing just fine," Persinco said. 

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Another motorist, Grant Reese of West Los Angeles, 
volunteered to help the president keep in touch during his 
remaining days in office, lest he be caught off guard by 
the Washington press corps again. 

"I'd be happy to send him all my credit card receipts for 
gasoline from now on," Reese said, watching the pump top 
$40 as he filled the tank of his Nissan Altima at a Sam's 
Club station in Long Beach. 

Energy analysts have offered motorists little solace, say-
ing that the rules of supply and demand for gasoline and 
other fuels are apparently being overridden, and commodity 
prices are continuing their run. 

The Energy Department's most recent weekly petroleum report 
said gasoline inventories were more than 8% above their 
five-year average. Gasoline demand is about 1% shy of its 
level of a year ago. 

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information 
Service in New Jersey, said the situation was likely to 
get worse. He expects retail gasoline prices to hit record 
highs between $3.50 and $3.75 a gallon nationally and that 
$4 gasoline in California won't be considered a rogue 
price. 

"I can't see [the average] hitting $4, but then I also 
couldn't see oil hitting $103 a barrel," he said. 

----------

Reynolds reported from Washington, Quinn from San Mateo, 
Calif., and White from Los Angeles. Times staff writers 
Peter G. Gosselin in Washington, Mark Z. Barabak in 
Beaumont, Texas, and Scott Wilson in Los Angeles 
contributed to this report.  

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