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The Politics of Gas

Gas prices mattered in the 2008 recession, and will matter in November

According to AAA, as of June 8th the average price for a gallon of gasoline in the United States has soared to $4.95, with many experts predicting $6 gas by August. Gas prices have risen over 90 cents in the last month and are up nearly $2 year over year. In states with higher gas taxes, the outlook is even bleaker; California’s average gas price is currently $6.39.

Facing inflation at forty-year highs, consumer prices have skyrocketed across the board, the cost of meat and eggs is up 14.3% and 22% year over year, respectively, and the price of used cars has increased by a staggering 40.5%. Not everyone is in the market for a used vehicle, and most people are not buying other items, like building materials, that have been hit especially hard by inflation. Many people hunt and fish, or grow their own vegetables to help bring down their grocery bill, but, unless they are fortunate enough to be able to afford a sixty thousand dollar Tesla, everyone buys gas. 

The last time the United States faced similar levels of inflation was in 1980, and four decades ago, the Federal Reserve took drastic action to cool off the economy, the Fed funds rate hit the all-time high of 20%, while today the funds rate sits at 1%. To discourage borrowing, the average rate of a thirty year mortgage hit 18.45% in 1981, the current rate is around 5.5%. With the Fed seemingly unwilling to take the necessary steps to bring down inflation, it is unlikely that Americans will see relief at the gas pump anytime soon, and that is a massive problem for the political party who controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Speaking from the White House on June 1st, President Biden made a less than inspiring admission: “There’s a lot going on right now but the idea we’re going to be able to click a switch, bring down the cost of gasoline, is not likely in the near term. Nor is it with regard to food.” Critics of the president point to the strained relationship with Saudi Arabia over the administration’s stance towards Iran, and the decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have provided 830,000 barrels of oil per day, as direct contributors to the current crisis. Attempts by the administration to blame Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine as the main cause of the gas price hike rang hollow, considering prices were skyrocketing long before the February 2022 invasion, and the fact that the United States only imported roughly 8% of its crude oil from Russia before sanctions on Russian energy were adopted.

Gas prices dominated much of the conversation during the 2008 presidential race, the price of gas had jumped to $4.16 a gallon by summer 2008, and presidential candidates John McCain and Hillary Clinton went so far as to propose a federal gas tax holiday to bring relief to American voters. When Republicans coined the slogan “drill, baby, drill” and encouraged increased offshore drilling, leading Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, agreed to support offshore drilling. Then-candidate Barack Obama, after seeing his lead over John McCain narrow dramatically, joined with the supporters of increased drilling in August 2008, and proposed opening up the strategic oil reserve

Although President Biden did release thirty million barrels of oil from the strategic oil reserve in April, to marginal effect, there are no plans to restart the construction of the Keystone pipeline. Moreover, according to Heather Richards of Politico, the number of oil and gas permits approved by the Bureau of Land Management for drilling on public lands declined to its lowest number under the Biden administration in January. The administration is committed to reducing dependence on fossil fuels and recently invoked the Defense Production Act to bolster clean energy manufacturing, so it seems unlikely that they will follow in the footsteps of leading Democrats in 2008, despite the price of gas doubling since Biden took office in January 2021.

Like President Bush and Republicans in 2008, the man occupying the highest office in the land, and his Party, are likely to be on the business end of voters’ frustration regarding gas prices. A Florida voter recently told MSNBC’s Sam Brock, when asked if gas prices will influence his vote in the 2022 midterms, “Definitely. I just know that one administration had cheaper gas and this administration has more expensive gas.” 

Brady Leonard is a musician, political strategist, and podcaster based in Toledo, Ohio. The No Gimmicks Podcast airs Mondays and Wednesdays at 1pm EST, wherever podcasts are found. Follow him on Twitter @bradyleonard

Brady Leonard is a musician, political strategist, and podcaster based in Toledo, Ohio. The No Gimmicks Podcast airs Mondays and Wednesdays at 1pm EST, wherever podcasts are found.
Catalyst articles by Brady Leonard