Having been roundly criticized for the sharp rise in gas prices earlier this spring, President Barack Obama would seem to be in line for a bit of credit for the drop in gas prices, which declined 6 percent this month alone. But the same Republicans who were quick to pinpoint his energy policies as problematic have been slow -- if not entirely unwilling -- to change their tune.
Instead, with the nation's average gas price having fallen from $4 a gallon in February to $3.38 a gallon today, Republicans have turned silent on an issue they once predicted would be a key line of attack against Obama in the 2012 presidential election.
When pressed on whether Obama can take credit for the recent decline in prices, GOP lawmakers have modified their talking points as follows: The president continues to shoulder responsibility for what Americans pay at the pump even if the prices seem to be heading south of $3 a gallon.
In March, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) had been particularly vocal about the president’s role in driving up gas prices. He held Obama as “fully responsible for what the American public is paying for gasoline” and called the administration’s energy policies “at best ineffective and at worst ... contributing to the higher gas prices,” as he put it.
Yet the senator had fewer words to spare on Tuesday when asked if the president is “fully responsible” for the relief in gas prices of late. “People are still feeling pain at the pump and pain at the plug, and it’s a result of the administration policies,” Barrasso told The Huffington Post.
In February, hours before Obama was set to deliver an energy speech at the University of Miami, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) took to his Facebook page to complain about the expense he incurred when filling up his Hummer's tank:
People have asked me before is there any area where I could praise President Obama? Certainly, he has an impeccable penchant for understanding the power of the bully pulpit. President Obama is also very adept at promulgating deceptive language masquerading as policy, actually just insidious political gimmickry. This "tax policy" is an example as well as today's speech on his "energy policy" shall be. Here is the bottom line, last night it took 70 dollars to fill the tank of my 2008 H3 Hummer, what is it costing you? What does it cost the President to fill his gas tank?
On Tuesday West didn’t mention his Hummer to The Huffington Post when asked about falling gas prices, but he pointed to the $1.84-a-gallon cost of gas on the day of Obama’s inauguration. He attributed the recent price decline (from highs this spring) to lowered demand in a weak economy.
“If you’re the chief executive officer of the United States of America, you should take responsibility for anything that’s occurring in this country, and you should not want to seek to get praise,” West said. “This is what the military taught me: Leaders don’t take credit, leaders take responsibility.”
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) sang a similar tune, arguing that the president had failed to stop gas prices from rising under his watch.
Lower gas prices "are not a result of anything he did to bring in more energy supply. We have more supply because people are using less,” Shuster told HuffPost. “So if you want to give the president any credit for having a slowdown in the economy, then I’ll give him all the credit for that.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who once said that “increasing the cost of gasoline is one campaign promise President Obama has kept,” praised the relief in gas prices but was quick to clarify that Obama deserved no credit.
“There’s been some moderation, and I think that’s welcome relief," Thune told HuffPost. "We all applaud that because obviously every time the price goes up at the pump, it has a profound impact on the economy.”
“[But] I’m trying to think of a policy the president’s put in place that actually has lowered or would have an impact on lowering fuel prices in this country, and I can’t think of one,” he said.
Thune said he would gladly give Obama credit if he approved the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was put on hold by the president earlier this year for further environmental review.
The pipeline issue also formed the crux of Republican Rep. Lou Barletta’s reaction to falling gas prices; he called Keystone “the icing on the cake” in Obama’s failed energy policy. “There’s much that we can and should be doing,” the Pennsylvania congressman told HuffPost. “I don’t want to celebrate $3 gas.”
In all likelihood, the Obama campaign won't celebrate $3-a-gallon gas, either. But there is certainly bound to be a bit of relief for staffers in his administration that prices have fallen from their spring high.
Economists have pointed out the president has little control over the fluctuations in gas prices; the broader state of the economy, conflicts in the Middle East and other global issues play more of a contributing role.
Plus, the Associated Press found “no statistical correlation” between domestic oil production and gas prices based on 36 years of U.S. Energy Information Administration data, calling into question whether the Keystone pipeline and what the president has labeled the GOP’s “drill, baby, drill” solution would relieve pain at the pump.
But politics don't always bend to policy. And when gas was priced high, it represented a plum target for the president's opponents. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney argued while campaigning in Waukesha, Wis., in April that the president “gets full credit or blame for what’s happened in this economy, and what’s happened to gasoline prices under his watch.” Whether that statement holds true for falling prices isn't clear.
The Romney campaign did not return a request for comment.