WASHINGTON -- Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) is accusing the Obama administration of deliberately driving up energy costs, comparing the destructiveness of high gas prices to the financial troubles of Wall Street.
"This administration's policies have been designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive," said Barbour in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC on Wednesday morning.
Barbour cited 2008 comments by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who floated the idea of gradually raising gasoline taxes to convince more Americans to adopt energy-friendly habits. "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe," he said at the time. President Obama has dismissed the idea of raising the gasoline tax, and in 2009, Chu also distanced himself from his earlier remarks, saying that it would be "completely unwise to want to increase the price of gasoline."
"In 2008, $4 gasoline brought my state to its knees before Wall Street melted down," said Barbour, underscoring his point.
In remarks to reporters after the speech, Barbour repeated that the Obama administration's policy "is to drive up energy prices."
"In the United States, it's harder to get a permit to mine coal than it is to get a heart transplant," he said. "If you look at the moratorium in the Gulf yesterday, it was announced there was a drilling permit issued for the Gulf of Mexico. Turns out it wasn't for a new well, it was to resume drilling for a well that they shut down, because the federal government made them shut down. We're going to produce about 13 percent less petroleum in the United States this year than last year. Now how is that good policy at any time when energy security is supposed to be a priority, but particularly at a time of turmoil in the Middle East and the oil-producing states? I hope the Obama administration is going to announce a reversal of course. But I'm not optimistic."
Barbour also backed Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) and his controversial plan to take away the collective bargaining rights of public employees, again turning the issue back on the president and asking why federal employees don't have those same rights.
"Federal employees don't have collective bargaining rights," he said. "The president can unilaterally freeze their pay. So the idea you guys have given the country is that there's just some constitutional right to collective bargain. Half the states don't have it all -- my state does not have collective bargaining -- or they limit it. Federal employees are not allowed to have collective bargaining for pay, for pensions, for health care. So what Gov. Walker is trying to do -- and what the legislature has the votes to pass, by large margins -- is the law in many many other states. So do I think he's overreached? No."
Throughout his address, Barbour also stressed that the "main thing" governments should be focused on is job creation and economic growth, and criticized the Obama administration for instead prioritizing health care legislation.