Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Gasoline prices are flattening consumer wallets and hobbling our economy, while the Democrats sit back and play politics with the issue.

Voter surveys show that the economy and gas prices top the list of the most critical issues facing our country. A Washington Post/ABC News poll reported last week that 85 percent of voters polled said gas prices will be either extremely or very important to their vote in this year's elections. And with good reason: Americans are getting walloped with huge gas bills, while utilities, buckling under ever-higher energy prices, are raising electricity rates to historic levels.

Other industries are getting hit, too. Airlines are cutting back on flights and services as higher fuel costs eat into declining revenues. Increased trucking costs are driving up the price of nearly everything that's shipped. Tighter budgets mean consumers are cutting back on discretionary spending. Retail sales barely budged last month, even despite government tax rebates.

Part of the answer to rising oil prices is to boost domestic production. President Bush has been pressing that solution almost weekly, but to no avail among Democrats on Capitol Hill.

While Bush and the Republicans have kept up a steady drumbeat for sharply increased oil production, the Democratic majority has sat on its hands, refusing to deal with the crisis. The reason: Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress are dead set against offshore drilling. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are more than happy to let Bush and the Republicans suffer the political consequences.

"They're running out the clock until November, to the detriment of all of us and our economy, because they think it will help them at the ballot box," said a Republican leadership official.

Last week, Bush lifted the executive ban on drilling for oil on the Outer Continental Shelf that was imposed by his father. The next step must be to end the ban by statute, but Pelosi and Reid apparently have no intention of acting on any energy bill, no matter how critical the situation becomes.

The response in Democratic cloakrooms seems to be "let Bush and Republicans turn slowly, slowly in the wind" -- an apt turn of phrase that fits into the Democrats' rigid energy orthodoxy, which supports biofuel, solar and wind, spurns oil production at home.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.