WASHINGTON — Utilizing the bully pulpit in an attempt to push down stubbornly high oil prices, President Obama on Tuesday announced five steps to strengthen oversight of the financial markets where contracts for future delivery of crude are traded and proposed increased funding for regulators to monitor these markets.
The president made remarks in the White House Rose Garden, flanked by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Attorney General Eric Holder and the heads of agencies that monitor oil trading and combat price-gouging of consumers. Obama suggested that financial speculators were running up the price of oil at the expense of American motorists.
“We can’t afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage and driving prices higher, only to flip the oil for a quick profit,” Obama said. “We can’t afford a situation where some speculators can reap millions, while millions of American families get the short end of the stick.”
Calling for “more cops on the beat to monitor activity in energy markets,” Obama also proposed an increase in civil and criminal penalties for illegal energy market manipulation and other activities. As a means of discouraging speculation, he proposed having Congress require that Wall Street traders put more money aside to pay off the bets made on oil contracts. And he called for toughening financial penalties tenfold and imposing penalties for every day a violation occurs.
The high oil prices — above $104 a barrel on the New York Mercantile exchange as of its close yesterday — are politically damaging to the president’s re-election chances. Gasoline prices averaged $3.904 nationwide for a gallon of unleaded gas — within 21 cents of the all-time high set in 2008.
Opponents of the president weren’t inclined toward new curbs on Wall Street, and Republicans accused him of grandstanding.
“If I were to guess, I’d say today’s proposal by the president probably polls pretty well. But I guarantee you it won’t do a thing to lower the price of gas at the pump,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a scathing statement. “It never has in the past. White House officials admit as much. Why would it now?”