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.
The Obama and Pelosi Democrats are captives of their global-warming special interests, who are dead set against drilling. Obama never mentions oil except when he attacks Bush and the Republicans as captives of the oil lobby. He is all solar panels, witchgrass and windmills. The specious argument against drilling asserts that it would have no effect on the supply or price of oil for years. Well, we may not see the full result of cancer research for many years, but that didn't mean we should have given up.
In the last decade, Republicans sent President Clinton a bill to drill for more domestic oil to make us less dependent on foreign product. We would be producing a lot more oil, and prices would be lower if it had become law, but Clinton vetoed it, and that's why we are in the mess we're in now.
Actually, it's another left-wing lie that passing a drilling bill now would have no effect on today's oil prices. Just the act of declaring a pro-production oil and gas policy would "send a message to the market and result in lower prices for oil and gas," John McCain is telling voters on the stump.
International oil traders bet on what the world's supplies will be in the future because supply determines price. Increasing oil exploration and production will drive future prices down. We saw an example of that this last week when crude oil prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell sharply by about $11 a barrel in two days after the Energy Department reported that commercial petroleum stocks rose the previous week.
Americans instinctively understand this common-sense axiom of supply and demand economics. That's why polls show that over 70 percent of us support drilling for more oil in wilderness areas and beneath our oceans. But our patience is coming to an end with the Obama Democrats who say no to more oil drilling, no to more refineries and no to nuclear power. Last week, the Gallup Poll said the Democratic Congress's approval rating has sunk to 14 percent. It has dropped below 20 percent only six times in the last 34, years and the Pelosi Congress accounts for four of them.
The conventional wisdom says Democrats will likely make major gains in Congress in November, but they may not do as well as expected if the voters blame them for inaction on the biggest economic issue in the country. The GOP will be hammering them on this for the rest of the election cycle.
There's a way to start digging ourselves out of this deep energy hole, and that is at the ballot box. Remember that the next time you fill up your tank.