Washington Extra – Gift of the gas

April 24, 2012

Gasoline drips off a nozzle during refueling at a gas station in Altadena, California in this March 24, 2012 file photo. Picture taken March 24, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

After negotiating a tricky stretch of road, the Obama campaign may be easing into the straightaway in the gas-driven presidential race.

News on Monday of a delay in the planned closure of the largest refinery on the East Coast could mean an end to skyrocketing gas prices. And that would effectively take the wind out of a forceful Republican line of attack — that the president is to be blamed for $4 a gallon gas, arguably the most visible price in the American economy today.

The narrative was working against the president, who currently gets some of his lowest poll marks for his handling of energy prices, even though the causes of higher prices are largely beyond his control. Even so, we shouldn’t expect the Republicans to simply drop the rhetoric.

“Until we are at the point where people don’t feel like they’re squeezing their entire paychecks into the gas tank, it’s an issue that Republicans are going to keep talking about,” said a Senate Republican aide.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Signs of cheaper gas could brighten Obama campaign – New signs of lower gas prices could give a boost to President Obama’s re-election hopes and blunt a potent weapon that Republicans have used to attack him. News of a month long delay in the planned closure of the largest refinery on the East Coast was the latest indication sky-rocketing gasoline prices may have peaked. Industry experts say keeping Sunoco’s Philadelphia refinery open will ease supply concerns and help underpin a gradual decline in gasoline prices during the summer. For more of this story by Alister Bull, read here.

Rubio campaigns with Romney, raising VP speculation – Popular Florida Senator Marco Rubio campaigned with Mitt Romney, increasing speculation that the conservative Cuban-American might be high on the Republican presidential front-runner’s list of potential vice presidential running mates. Rubio could appeal to some Latinos, a large majority of whom back Democratic President Obama, and he could inspire conservatives who worry Romney is too moderate. But Romney, who said his search is in the “very early stages,” will have to look hard at Rubio’s inexperience on the national stage. For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.

Obama seeks to stop Syria, Iran tech assault on activists – President Obama unveiled sanctions against those who help Syria and Iran track dissidents through cell phones and computers and said he would keep adding pressure on both governments to prevent mass atrocities. In a sombre speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Obama said Damascus and Tehran were monitoring the social media tools that allowed democracy campaigners to organize rallies in the Middle East to plot attacks against opposition groups. For more of this story by Laura MacInnis, read here.

U.S. says has raised N.Korea missile-linked sale with China – The White House said it had raised with China new allegations that a Chinese firm sold North Korea components for a missile transporter showcased in a recent military parade, despite a U.N. ban on such sales. For more of this story, read here.

Colombia scandal implicates 12th military member – A 12th U.S. military service member was linked to the prostitution scandal in Colombia and the Pentagon suspended security clearances of personnel implicated in the events leading up to President Obama’s visit. For more of this story by Phil Stewart, read here.

Without reforms, U.S. retirees to face dwindling funds – Aging baby boomers got some jolting news when the U.S. government said the Social Security retirement program is on track to go bankrupt three years earlier than expected if reforms are not made. For more of this story by Rachelle Younglai and Glenn Somerville, read here.

After the bailout: few fans but no fix for Fannie and Freddie – In considering how to fix the ailing housing market, Republicans and Democrats in Washington have found a rare point of agreement: they would prefer life without failed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But even with agreement that the system is broken, it is unlikely Congress will soon tackle the mammoth task of winding down two entities that have cost taxpayers more than $150 billion since their bailout in September 2008. Fannie and Freddie now support about 60 percent of all new U.S. home loans. For more of this story by Margaret Chadbourn, read here.

Complaint tests US conservative group’s charity status – A conservative group that promotes legislation in state capitals is mainly a lobbying organization and should not benefit from a special tax status meant for charities, a liberal group says in a complaint to the IRS. The complaint challenges the tax-law status of the American Legislative Exchange Council as a not-for-profit charity. That status lets ALEC avoid paying taxes and lets its supporters deduct their contributions. For more of this story by David Ingram and Nanette Byrnes, read here.

US high court won’t hear New York City rent case – The Supreme Court refused to hear a constitutional challenge to a New York City rent stabilization law and regulations that control rent increases and evictions for nearly 1 million apartments. The justices turned down an appeal by a couple, James and Jeanne Harmon, who own and live in a small brownstone building in Manhattan. They claimed three tenants in their building pay government-set rents at 59 percent below market value. For more of this story by James Vicini, read here.

From elsewhere…

Prosecutors call John Edwards manipulative, ambitious – Prosecutors in the criminal campaign finance case against former Senator John Edwards described him as a manipulative politician who refused to let his affair or his mistress’ pregnancy sideline his presidential ambitions. But Edwards’ defense asked jurors to “follow the money,” saying the nearly $1 million in illegal campaign funds he is accused of secretly accepting as he sought the 2008 Democratic nomination instead went to a former campaign aide who used the money to pay for his $1.5 million house. For more of this story, read here.

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