Big-Mouth Bush told Clinton How to handle OPEC

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While on the campaign trail in 2000, Bush told President Bill Clinton how to handle OPEC, in public no less. “What I think the president ought to do," he said, "is he ought to get on the phone with the OPEC cartel and say we expect you to open your spigots."

And in a brilliant, highly educational follow-up comment, Bush informed the audience: "One reason why the price is so high is because the price of crude oil has been driven up."

"OPEC has gotten its supply act together," Bush advised listeners, "and it’s driving the price, like it did in the past."

"And," he said in direct advice to Clinton, "the president of the United States must jawbone OPEC members to lower the prices."

Apparently, Bush has lost the phone numbers for OPEC members, or they are refusing to take his calls, because I think its safe to assume that he did not "jawbone" members of the OPEC cartel.

That said, if Bush is not in the mood for "jawboning," he could at least use a little pillow talk with his buddies in Saudi Arabia and get them to open the spigots.

During campaign 2000, Bush told Americans that he had an energy plan that would reduce gas prices at the pumps and here we sit 5 years later, with the highest prices in history.

The high energy costs are affecting everyone, from commuters and consumers, to public and private programs. The damage is devastating everywhere.

Since Bush took office, gas prices have increased 62.5% from $1.44 per gallon in January 2001 to $2.34 in March 2006. The average household with children will spend about $3,343 on transportation fuel costs this year, an increase of 75% since 2001, according to the Energy Information Administration, Retail Gasoline Prices, and Household Vehicle Energy Use: Latest Data and Trends, November 2005.

And gas prices are still rising. As of April 24, 2006, the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge report said, nationally, the average price for a gallon of regular gas was $2.90, or a 15.5% hike over the $2.51 price per gallon a month ago.

So where is all the money going? One need not look far. In 2005, the world’s largest oil company, Exxonmoblile, reported the most profitable year in US corporate history, earning more than $36 billion.

Economists say oil producers and refiners, not gas stations, are making a killing. The five largest refineries, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Valero, and British Petroleum (BP) have recorded $228 billion in profits since 2001, according to testimony at a congressional hearing last November.

In 1999, refiners made 23 cents for each gallon processed and in 2004, they made 41 cents a gallon, according to Department of Energy data.

While watching oil company profits skyrocket, the average American household spent about $107 more for heating this past winter compared to the year before. In 2005-06, households heating with natural gas paid $402, or 86% more than they paid in 2001-2002. Consumers of heating oil paid $759, or 121% more this winter than they paid in 2001-2002, according to the Energy Information Administration, Short Term Energy Outlook, April 2006.

Family budgets, already strained by the rising cost of health care and health insurance, including higher co-payments and deductibles, as well as prescription drugs, college tuition, and other everyday expenses, are being stretched to the limit.

Energy costs are largely responsible for the declining real wages of working people. With the ever-rising cost of gasoline, employees are seeing their paychecks dwindle by the simple fact that they have to drive back and forth to work.

For many low-income families, gas now burns through 10% of household income. In Wisconsin, according to Consumer News, pawn shops are reporting brisk business as people hock their belongings to raise money for gas.

But it is not only the poor who are affected, a majority of the population is taking a hit. Students cannot afford to drive to school. Owners of recreational vehicles, faced with paying more than $200 to fill up the gas tank, are rethinking vacation trips.

"It’s taking food off my table," James of Alexandria, VA told Consumer News. "I am having trouble and I’m late paying my daughter’s tuition. No vacation this year. I’m charging gas on my credit card because I don’t have $50 to put 20 gallons of gas in my car," he said.

Local governments, already struggling to pay for essential services due to continuous cuts in Federal funding, are overwhelmed in trying to keep school buses, police cars, fire trucks, and other public vehicles on the road.

Senior citizens are already strapped by the extra costs of trying to keep their homes heated, and now the Meals on Wheels program is having trouble delivering food to their homes due to high gas prices.

Rising fuel costs are forcing city and county officials all across the country to boost budgets, cut back on social programs that rely on transportation and scrutinize vehicle use.

For 2005, the Appleton, Wisconsin city budget estimated fuel costs for gasoline and diesel would be $595,000. In October 2005, Appleton Mayor, Tim Hanna, projected actual costs to be $936,000.

The rise in the cost of fuel in the past year forced the city of Charleston, SC to spend $150,000 more than planned just to keep its public vehicles running.

In Winnebago County, Wisconsin, County Executive Mark Harris recently noted the need for more than 100 layoffs, threatening positions once thought indispensable. The county”s combined cost for all types of fuel, budgeted at an estimated $1.6 million in 2005, is predicted to rise to nearly $2.2 million in 2006, according to Harris.

Back on August 26, 2005, the Deseret Morning News reported that Arizona was bracing for the financial impact from gas prices. "Already," Deseret reported, "state officials are looking at boosting the state budget next year by nearly $685,000 to make up for the increase in gas costs."

According to the Arizona Republic on October 6, 2005, the Arizona Department of Public Safety will cut the number of miles police will patrol on the highway due to skyrocketing gas prices that could cost the agency an extra $2 million in 2006.

"Officers have been ordered to cut their driving by 10 percent a month and conduct stationary enforcements using radar guns on freeway ramps, medians or overpasses instead of patrolling," the Republic said.

In Calumet County, Wisconsin, finance director, Dan De Bonis, informed county supervisors that motor fuel will cost the county about $91,000 more in 2006, a 62% hike, and that heating costs will increase as much as 44%.

The Bush administration has failed to take any action to deal with the crisis. Every day, American workers, consumers, and small businesses suffer with no solutions in sight. The response from the White House has been to claim that Americans are addicted to oil.

The tax breaks, if any, that average families received under Bush’s tax cut program, have long ago been siphoned away at the pump. Yet, while traveling in California last weekend, Bush warned of even higher prices with vacation time approaching.

In a feeble attempt to appease the public this week, Bush said he will temporarily divert oil used to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve into the market to drive prices down.

Apparently acknowledging the act as a do-nothing remedy, Bush made the comment, "Every little bit counts."

I doubt that many people appreciated a snide remark like this coming from a guy who has never had to balance a checkbook, never had to worry about paying a heating bill or filling up the gas tank, but who now through some perverse twist of fate, maintains a stranglehold on the nation’s purse strings.

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