By Russell Berman – 03/25/12, The Hill
If you want to see Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) get riled up these days, ask him about President Obama’s energy policy.
The Speaker has been hammering the president over energy for months, first over his delay of the Keystone pipeline and more recently as gas prices have risen.
When Obama toured the country last week touting an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, Boehner openly mocked him. At a press conference meant to bracket Obama’s appearance in Cushing, Okla., the Speaker on Thursday rolled out a new slogan, the “Obama energy gap.”
“There’s a big gap between what the president promises and what he talks about and the actions that he’s taking,” Boehner said. “And I think honest, hard-working taxpayers deserve actions that match the words.”
Aides to the Speaker view energy as a winning issue on two fronts: After months of playing defense, it represents an area where Republicans can go on offense against the White House, and on which the GOP can make a direct link to job creation, a top priority for both parties.
“This is a win-win issue for us,” Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said.
Republicans argue that the administration’s newfound focus on energy is a sign the White House believes Obama is vulnerable on the issue. After bowing to environmental interests in delaying the Keystone decision late last year, the president has moved to speed up approval of the southern portion of the pipeline. It’s all smoke and mirrors, according to the GOP, which points out the most critical permit the administration must grant is the one that involves the Canadian border, which Obama has yet to approve.
As evidence of their political advantage on the issue, Republicans also point to the president’s State of the Union address, where he endorsed an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that has been a hallmark of recent GOP campaigns.
Obama used his four-state tour on Wednesday and Thursday to rebut the Republican charges and defend his position on the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
“We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the earth,” Obama said at a stop in Cushing, Okla., on Thursday.
But in an increasingly divided House GOP conference, energy is also an issue on which Republicans remain broadly united. There is little daylight on energy between Boehner and conservatives who have criticized leadership decisions on spending and tax policy.
Boehner has seized on energy issues for years and, as House minority leader in 2008, he led a Republican protest of Democratic inaction on legislation to boost domestic oil drilling.
And while as Speaker, Boehner has maintained a cordial relationship with Obama and kept his criticism restrained in certain policy areas, he has become one of the party’s leading attack dogs on energy. In December, Boehner used Obama’s delay of a decision on Keystone to rally Republicans around his payroll tax extension proposal, and earlier this year he jumped on a report that the president had personally lobbied senators to oppose a bill expediting the oil pipeline’s construction.
“The Speaker understands he has a unique platform to make the GOP case against the president on gas prices and jobs,” Smith said.
With rising gas prices weighing on Obama’s approval rating and threatening the economic recovery, Boehner has stepped up the pressure. At a press conference last month, the Speaker angrily denounced the lack of a national energy strategy.
“It’s just about damn time that we actually have a national energy policy and do something the American people want us to do,” Boehner said. “Enough of this!”
The Speaker emerged from a meeting with Obama earlier this month saying the president indicated he would work with Republicans on energy legislation, but Boehner has been disappointed by a lack of action since then, Smith said.
The Speaker has also tried to link revenue from increased domestic oil drilling to infrastructure spending, although he has yet to win full Republican support for the underlying transportation bill in which the policy is included.
The White House has aggressively fought back against GOP claims that the administration has held back domestic energy production, and House Democrats on Thursday accused Boehner of playing “games” with gas prices. Democratic leaders have blamed recent increases in gas prices on speculation in the oil market.
Meanwhile, more GOP legislation aimed at addressing gas prices is on its way. The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced plans Friday to consider a bill to ensure that domestic production is increased before emergency oil reserves are tapped and another measure calling for a study of Environmental Protection Agency rules that affect fuel prices.