Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Pump It Up

April 18, 2012
If you had to pick a name for a deli sandwich in honor of Washington, D.C., there’s one clear choice: “The Ruckus.” In the city’s super-charged atmosphere, politicians, lobbyists and hired aides can barely let anything go by without a fight. 

Today it was rising gasoline prices that have Republicans and Democrats at each other’s throats. Both parties realize they really cannot do very much about retail prices, but they’re scrambling in hopes that voters don’t blame them for a pocketbook issue in an election year.

“Every time prices go up, there’s some sort of ruckus,”  Marc Spitzer, an-ex energy regulator appointed by former President George W. Bush, told Reuters.

The current White House occupant seized on gasoline prices today, targeting potential oil market manipulators and calling on Congress to jack up civil and criminal penalties on those found to be messing with prices for their own financial gain.

“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,” President Barack Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.

Republicans quickly dismissed Obama’s initiative. “It probably polls pretty well, but I guarantee it won’t do a thing to lower prices at the pump,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. While the Republican answer is more domestic oil production, Democrats argue that’s already happening and prices nonetheless have risen.

Look for this ruckus to only get louder if the average gasoline price breaches the $4-a-gallon mark this summer.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Stung by gas prices, Obama seeks new oil market crackdown: President Obama, whose political fortunes are threatened by rising gasoline prices, proposed new measures to reduce oil market manipulation that are unlikely to get support from a divided Congress. Obama called on lawmakers to raise civil and criminal penalties on individuals and companies involved in manipulative practices. He also pressed for more money to fund the agency charged with policing the markets to hire “more cops” for oversight and upgrade old technology. For more of this story by Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton, read here.

Obama easily beating Romney among U.S. women: American women favor President Obama by a 14-point margin over Mitt Romney, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed, despite the recent partisan “Mommy Wars” flap over the role of women in society. Fifty-one percent of registered women voters support the Democratic president, according to the poll, compared with 37 percent who favor Romney, the probable Republican nominee in the November 6 presidential election. For more of this story by Patricia Zengerle, read here.

Romney campaign backs away from Nugent’s Obama remark: Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign called for civility after aging rock star Ted Nugent made an apparent threat against President Obama before an audience of gun lobbyists. Nugent told the National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis last week that “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” For more of this story by Sam Youngman, read here.

Senate begins debating US Postal Service overhaul: The Senate voted to begin debating legislation that would allow the cash-strapped Postal Service to end Saturday mail delivery after two years. The bill would also allow the mail agency to use surplus funds in a federal retirement account to offer retirement incentives and to explore developing its own health care plan. Lawmakers have spent months crafting an overhaul but have fought over whether to allow USPS to close post offices, what to do about a massive annual payment for future retiree health benefits and other issues. For more of this story by Emily Stephenson, read here.

Twenty or 21 women brought to Colombia hotel by US agents, military –senator: Twenty or 21 women were brought back to a hotel in Colombia by Secret Service and military personnel in an incident last week involving alleged misconduct with prostitutes, Senator Susan Collins said. Collins was briefed by the director of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, on Monday evening. “There are 11 agents involved. Twenty or 21 women foreign nationals were brought to the hotel, but allegedly Marines were involved with the rest,” the Republican senator said in comments emailed to Reuters. For more of this story by Susan Cornwell and Tabassum Zakaria, read here.

Conservative group retreats on “stand your ground”: A conservative group under pressure for spreading “stand your ground” self-defense laws in the United States said it is abandoning that part of its work to focus on the economy. The decision by the American Legislative Exchange Council came after a months-long public lobbying campaign that successfully persuaded large U.S. corporations, including Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and PepsiCo, to cut ties to the organization. For more of this story by David Ingram, read here.

US top court rules for generic drugmaker on patent: The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a generic drugmaker in a case over how companies can fight brand-name rivals in an effort to get their cheaper medicines to market. The high court unanimously ruled that the generics company, Caraco Pharmaceuticals, could sue a brand-name drugmaker to get it to narrow its patent description with the FDA. The FDA uses this information to decide whether to approve a generic “copycat” version of a medicine before the patent has expired. For more of this story by Anna Yukhananov and James Vicini, read here.

Anxious to keep lid on Iraq, Obama woos Kurds: President Obama, facing a damaging election-year problem if Iraq’s political crisis worsens, has launched an urgent behind-the-scenes push to ease tensions between the Baghdad central government and the Kurds. Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurds’ semi-autonomous regional government, paid a quiet visit to the White House on April 4 and left with backing for two long-standing requests that could help build the worried Kurds’ confidence in U.S. support. For more of this story by Alister Bull, read here.

U.S. factory decline suggests economy losing steam: Output at factories slipped in March and builders started construction on fewer homes, offering cautionary signals for an economy that appeared to be gaining traction. Manufacturing output slipped for the first time in four months, dropping 0.2 percent, the Federal Reserve said. The decline dragged on overall industrial production which was unchanged and fell short of analysts’ expectations.  For more of this story by Jason Lange, read here.

U.S. says EU must do what it takes to solve debt crisis: The Treasury warned that Europe must show persuasively that it will do whatever it takes to “reinforce the foundation of the currency union,” and get its debt crisis under control. “The euro area will need to strike a careful balance to avoid a downward spiral of austerity and recession,” Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard told reporters ahead of a meeting of the Group of 20 finance ministers on Friday. For more of this story by Glenn Somerville and Rachelle Younglai, read here.

Is humanity quietly abandoning a future in space?: As astronaut Leroy Chiao watches the space shuttles he crewed make their final journeys to become museum pieces, he worries humankind is unthinkingly ditching space exploration and a future beyond Earth. After flying its last mission into space last year, the shuttle Discovery arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., atop a NASA 747 to enter the National Air and Space Museum at its giant Udvar-Hazy facility in suburban Virginia. For more of this story by Peter Apps, read here.

From elsewhere…

China’s Bo backed, then blocked murder probe against his wife -sources: Chinese politician Bo Xilai initially agreed to a police probe of his wife’s role in the murder of a British businessman before abruptly reversing course and demoting his police chief, causing upheavals that led to the downfall of both men, sources said. The sources’ account gives new details of the dramatic breakdown in relations between Bo, an ambitious leader who cast himself as the crime-fighting boss of Chongqing, China’s biggest municipality, and his once trusted police chief, Wang Lijun.

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