Debra J. Saunders

TV news slays me on the gasoline-price story. For years, cable journalists have reported breathlessly on the certain dangers of global warming and President Bush's refusal to play along with the highly flawed Kyoto global-warming pact. Then, the minute gasoline flirts with the admittedly painful $3 per gallon threshold, it's Armageddon -- but for consumers, not the planet. Suddenly forgotten is the fact that high oil prices may be the only mechanism that can reduce the use of fossil fuels -- the key Kyoto goal.

Then there are congressional Democrats. They never look so happy as when they smell an opportunity to capitalize on bad news. High gas prices? They can blame Bush -- he's an oil guy from Texas.

The best part: Voters probably won't blame the Democrats for high prices, even though they have opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If the Dems had agreed to drill in ANWR years ago, there would be a new source of domestic oil to offset the heightened demand for oil in India and China.

Capitol Hill Republicans have been shameless in their own fashion. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., dashed off a letter to President Bush, asking for a Federal Trade Commission investigation into "gouging" and "price fixing." So much for the free market.

The Hastsert-Frist letter confirmed voters' suspicion that gasoline prices are so high that Washington politicians know they should do something, but no letter will convince voters that GOP leaders are really going to get tough on Big Oil.

It's clear Dubya has no idea what to do. The White House issued a four-point plan to confront high gasoline prices. I agree with much of it, and still my eyes rolled when I read it.

Bush picked up congressional leaders' call for an FTC investigation into gouging. (Like that will help.) He also called on Congress to revoke tax breaks for Big Oil to the tune of $2 billion over 10 years -- when Americans know that if Bush were serious, he would have called oil company executives into the White House and told them to cut prices -- or lose the tax breaks tomorrow.

Bush also wants to cut regulations on smog-reducing fuels and to push again for drilling in the Arctic refuge.

I agree with those proposals, but Bush is stuck in first gear. He keeps asking for the same old things the same old way -- less regulation, more drilling -- and, no surprise, his car never gets up to speed.

And it never will.

Bush will never have the public on his side on energy issues until he proposes reforms that don't spare big business and industry leaders.

Debra J. Saunders

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