Washington Extra – Gasoline alley

February 24, 2012

President Obama may have his facts right on what’s behind higher gasoline prices and he might be correct in saying that the causes are largely beyond his control. But even his strong arguments won’t stand a chance with Americans if a gallon of gas heads up to $5 in coming months.

Nevertheless, the president clearly understood the importance of getting his message out there early and his speech today in Florida was well timed. Rising gas prices are leading the nightly news shows this week and Republican presidential candidates are squarely placing the blame on Obama and his energy policies. Last night, right out of the debate gate, Newt Gingrich said he would give Americans $2.50 gas if he won the White House.

“You can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas,” Obama said. “I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is drill, step two is drill and step three is keep drilling.”

Obama contends that there is no silver bullet for the energy crunch and that real change will only come in the long run. But he has asked officials to study options for a short-term fix for consumers’ sake. That could come in the form of alleviating delivery bottlenecks or even a rare tapping of the strategic petroleum reserves. Indeed, when it comes to America’s gas, actions speak louder than words.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Obama hits back at Republican criticism of high gas prices

President Obama hit back at election-year Republican criticism of his energy policy, offering a staunch defense of his attempts to wean Americans off foreign oil and saying there was no ‘silver bullet’ for high gas prices. Obama sought to deflect growing Republican attacks over rising prices at the pump, blaming recent increases on a mix of factors beyond his control, including tensions with Iran, hot demand from China, India and other emerging economies, and Wall Street speculators taking advantage of the uncertainty.

For more of this story by Laura MacInnis, read here.

Romney claws back into White House race, blasts Santorum

Mitt Romney, fighting his way back into the driver’s seat in the Republican presidential race, assailed rival Rick Santorum as a Washington insider in a line of attack that polls show seems to be working. After repeatedly putting the former Pennsylvania senator on the defensive in a debate on Wednesday over Santorum’s record of backing big spending in Congress, Romney kept up his attacks at a campaign appearance in Arizona.

For more of this story by Steve Holland and David Schwartz, read here.

For video on Republican talk of a brokered convention, click here.

US debt would swell under Republican candidates’ tax plans –study

The national debt will continue to swell under the tax-cut plans floated by the top four Republican presidential candidates, according to an independent analysis of their fiscal policy proposals released. Plans put forth by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum would pile up the largest increases in debt, while Mitt Romney’s would add a smaller amount of debt over the next decade compared with debt growth if tax policies implemented by former President George W. Bush are kept in place.

For more of this story by David Lawder, read here.

For video of Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice talking about the candidates’ tax plans, click here.

Obama apologizes for Koran burning in Afghanistan

President Obama apologized for the burning of copies of the Koran on a U.S. base in Afghanistan as the White House sought to quell spiraling furor among Afghans while also staving off Republican criticism at home. Obama apologized in a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the incident in which Afghan workers found charred copies of the Muslim holy book on a military base near Kabul, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.

For more of this story by Matt Spetalnick and Laura MacInnis, read here.

Bankers escape big penalties in FDIC failed bank cases

Like many banks engulfed by the mortgage crisis, First National Bank of Nevada specialized in risky home loans that didn’t require borrowers to prove their incomes. When the housing bubble burst, First National got crushed in 2008 under the weight of bad loans that it could no longer resell to investors. Last year, the FDIC sued two former senior executives of the defunct bank for alleged negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, hoping to recover nearly $200 million in losses that it tied directly to those executives’ decisions. The two men denied wrongdoing and settled for $40 million. But they didn’t pay a dime.

For more of this insight story by Philip Shishkin, read here.

White House privacy push seeks cooperation

The White House proposed a “privacy bill of rights” that would give consumers more control over their data but relies heavily for now on voluntary commitments by Internet companies like Google and Facebook. The plan comes amid growing consumer concern about their lack of control over the collection and trade in vast amounts of detailed information about their online activities and real-life identities.

For more of this story by Jasmin Melvin, read here.

WikiLeaks suspect Manning defers plea, court-martial begins

Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, accused of the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, deferred a plea in a military court arraignment, marking the first step in a court-martial that could land him in prison for life. Manning, 24, was formally charged with 22 counts including aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet and theft of public property. Military prosecutors say Manning downloaded more than 700,000 classified or confidential documents and transferred thousands to WikiLeaks, which promotes leaking government and corporate information.

For more of this story by Lily Kuo, read here.

Clinton suggests Syrian rebels will get arms

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Syria’s opposition will ultimately arm itself and said she would bet against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s staying in power. Speaking directly to Russia and China, which have blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to end the violence in Syria, Clinton said the government’s “brutality” against its own people was unsustainable in the internet age.

For more of this story by Arshad Mohammed, read here.

For more stories from our Washington correspondents visit www.reuters.com and stay informed.

Photo Credits: REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo (driver refueling); REUTERS/Joshua Lott (Romney, Santorum); REUTERS/Parwiz (Protest in Jalalabad)

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