The White House is trying to blame record-high gas prices on Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.
"You may have noticed this week that your gas prices have gone up," says Press Secretary Jen Psaki in a widely viewed White House video. "A lot of it has to do with Vladimir Putin." During a press conference announcing sanctions on Russia, President Joe Biden quickly switched topics from rising costs to patriotic sacrifice, announcing, "I said defending freedom is going to cost. It's going to cost us as well in the United States." Facing collapsing approval ratings, Democratic lawmakers are echoing the same argument. New York Rep. Gregory Meeks announced that Americans should be happy to "make that kind of sacrifice because in the long run, democracy is at stake."
Even simpatico comedians are pushing the idea that gas prices are setting new highs mostly because of world events but the hike is worth it if it hurts Russia more than American consumers. "I'll pay $4.00 a gallon," said Late Show host Stephen Colbert. "Hell, I'll pay $15, because I drive a Tesla."
There's no question that the sanctions the United States and most of Europe have levied against Russia, one of the world's largest oil producers, are spooking energy markets. But the so-called Putin Price Hike actually started over a year ago. Biden can't pin our 8 percent across-the-board inflation rate, the likes of which was last seen early in Ronald Reagan's first term, entirely on Putin. Indeed, all last year, the president and his allies in D.C. and the press were waving away inflation as a "transitory" phenomenon.
The main culprit is the massive infusion of money into the economy over the past few years by the federal government and the Federal Reserve. Spending in Washington increased 50 percent between 2019 and 2021 on both Biden's and Donald Trump's watch. In 2019, federal spending came to $4.4 trillion (a record level). It went up to $6.6 trillion in 2020 and then hit $6.8 trillion in 2021, a three-year jump never before seen. That's a surefire way to boost the cost of everything, as more dollars chase basically the same amount of goods.
And when it comes to energy specifically, the Biden administration has pursued a number of policies designed to make it more expensive to produce fossil-fuel energy in an effort to reach a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In fact, environmentalists cheered Biden's bold moves just a week into his presidency as "the most remarkable day in the history of America's official response to the climate crisis." As Bill McKibben wrote in The New Yorker, Biden's actions marked "the official beginning of the end of the fossil-fuel era."
The president's measures have included halting new permits for drilling and leases on federal lands, shutting down the planned Keystone XL pipeline, and proposing the end of tax credits for new drilling and exploration projects. He's been joined by congressional Democrats who have been working to tighten regulations loosened during the Trump years and otherwise clamp down on oil producers. At the state level, ousted Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in New York in 2014 and California has effectively stopped the practice in anticipation of a 2024 ban.
Even when such moves have been overturned by courts or only affect future operations, Biden and the Democrats have sent a loud and clear signal that the future will be green, even if renewable sources aren't up to the task of supplying our energy needs. Currently, less than 13 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources and even as wind, solar, hydroelectric, and other sustainable sources get cheaper and more reliable, we're a long way from independence on fossil fuels.
If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, Biden is blaming Putin for the predictable results of his and Trump's irresponsible spending policies. If we can't expect lower fuel prices any time soon, we can at least demand an honest accounting of the main cause of inflation, the most insidious form of taxation. After printing money to pay for federal largess, the bill is coming due at the gas pump, the grocery store, and just about everywhere else.
Photo Credits: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom; Sipa USA/Newscom; Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin Pool/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; shannonpatrick17 from Swanton, Nebraska, U.S.A., CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Peter Bennett / DanitaDelimont.com Danita Delimont Photography/Newscom.
Music Credit: "Anchor," by Florian via Artlist.
Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Regan Taylor.