WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney on the campaign trail has chided President Barack Obama for failing to curb prices at the pump, even as prominent economists have debunked those talking points, saying there's little the president can do to lower prices in the short term. Now the latest twist: No one from Romney's economic team will step forward to defend him.
And not for want of opportunity.
After Romney insisted that more drilling in Mexico and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could bring down the cost of gas, The Huffington Post contacted members of Romney's economic team -- two revolving-door lobbyists and two former chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush -- to ask if they would vouch for the claim.
"I will pass. Sorry," prominent macroeconomist Gregory Mankiw, a Romney advisor, replied when contacted by HuffPost about an interview. Other queries were similarly denied or unreturned.
Consider the argument: "The best thing we can do to get the price of gas to be more moderate and not have to be dependent upon the cartel is: drill in the gulf, drill in the outer continent shelf, drill in ANWR, drill in North Dakota, South Dakota, drill in Oklahoma and Texas," Romney said on "Fox and Friends" on March 16.
Other economists haven't been shy about debunking the claim, explaining that U.S. energy policy has very little effect either on oil prices or on overall U.S. employment. Recent studies have backed them up. The Associated Press' statistical analysis of 36 years of monthly, inflation-adjusted gasoline prices and U.S. domestic oil production found no statistical correlation between gas prices and how much oil comes out of U.S. wells.
"The truth is that we're already having a hydrocarbon boom," Paul Krugman explained in a recent article, "with U.S. oil and gas production rising and U.S. fuel imports dropping. If there were any truth to drill-here-drill-now, this boom should have yielded substantially lower gasoline prices and lots of new jobs. Predictably, however, it has done neither."
Since then Romney has put forth other ideas about how to curb the price of oil. At a campaign stop in Illinois on Saturday, Romney called on Obama to fire what he dubbed "the gas-hike trio," a reference to the administration's energy secretary, interior secretary and head of the EPA. "No question in my mind that these -- I call them the gas-hike trio ... are on a mission to drive up the price of gasoline and all energy so that they can finally get their solar and their wind to be more price competitive," he said.
There are some things Obama could do help alleviate pain at the pump, as HuffPost's Peter Goodman noted in a recent article. But increasing domestic drilling and firing the EPA's Lisa Jackson aren't among them. "He could unleash a serious-minded, subpoena-wielding probe aimed at frightening the Wall Street speculators who are responsible for most of the climb in gas prices," Goodman noted in a recent column. But that's not something Romney's looking at.
An independent economist who has called Romney "hands down" the best choice for the GOP nomination hardly came to his rescue.
"I don't think there's anything in the short run," said Decision Economics President Allen Sinai, when asked what could be done to bring down gas prices. "I think as part of the election campaign, President Obama and whoever is the Republican candidate owes the American people an energy plan that will deal both with the supply of oil energy and the demand."
Asked what changes the nation might expect to see in the price of gas over three to six months or even a year, Sinai responded simply "nothing, Americans are going to be stuck with whatever it is."
Joel Naroff, who has chided President Obama for his handling of the economy, agreed.
"Nothing in the short term changes things a whole lot," Naroff, president of Naroff Economics, told HuffPost in a recent interview. "For example, the skyrocketing prices in gasoline, especially in the last two years, has had nothing to do with supply and demand. I don't think anybody is arguing that point right now. Nothing -- I don't believe that anything that anybody could have done would have changed things dramatically in the short term. The president and Congress could have said every single available place to drill, regardless of what anybody thinks, is going to be drilled. They could have said that two years ago, and we wouldn't have a whole lot more oil than we have now. So, short term, U.S. energy policy has little to do with the ups and downs of prices."
Harvard economist and historian David Landes, whom Romney has quoted approvingly in speeches, wasn't available to comment on the issue.
Even Romney himself has contradicted his rhetoric on gas prices. Earlier this week, evidence surfaced that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney responded much as Obama has done recently, describing high gas prices as the natural result of global market pressures.
Of course it's not impossible to find economists who'll throw Romney a bone.
But even he offered a tepid endorsement at best.
"I think, in the short term, more drilling would have some effect, not a huge effect," Kudlow said in an interview. "You've got your oil markets, and they're buying and selling in the futures, so if they saw an opening of, let's say, oil drilling offshore -- federal lands, Alaska, the Arctic -- they might say, 'Well, you know it's going to take 10 years, but we're going to sell the futures contracts because we see more supply equals lower prices.'"
He added, "I'm a market guy, and I say more drilling and more pipeline. The price will take care of itself. We should stabilize, but we have so much we could be doing."