WASHINGTON – Jittery about a political backlash over gasoline costs as prices set yet another record Tuesday, Congress voted to halt deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in defiance of President Bush.
The action was expected to have a modest effect on pump prices, saving motorists 2 to 5 cents a gallon, backers said. But its overwhelming support, including from Bush’s usual GOP allies, underscored the potency of fuel costs as a campaign issue.
The measure is likely to be one of the few Congress approves this year in response to public angst at the pump as Democrats and Republicans agreed on little else Tuesday to bring down prices.
Senators approved the measure 97 to 1. The two Democratic presidential candidates, Barack Obama, of Illinois, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, of New York, returned to the Capitol from the campaign trail to vote for the measure. Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, the presumptive GOP nominee, supported the measure but was absent for the vote.
The House later followed suit, approving it 385-25.
“Why on earth should we be putting oil underground at a time of record-high prices?” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the measure’s chief sponsor. “When the American consumer is being burned at the stake of higher gas prices, the government should not be carrying the wood.”
Bush has resisted calls to suspend the delivery of about 70,000 barrels a day to the emergency stockpile, contending it would have little influence on prices in a nation that uses about 21 million barrels a day while weakening the nation’s energy security. Instead, Bush has assailed Congress for not doing enough to spur domestic production.
Although Bush opposes suspending deliveries to the reserve, he halted deposits in 2006, saying it would leave more oil on the market. “Every little bit helps,” he said at the time.
The House and Senate measures would suspend deliveries to the reserve for the remainder of the year, unless oil drops below $75 a barrel.
The two chambers still must agree on the form of the bill before sending it to the White House. The Senate measure was passed as an amendment to another bill, while the House passed it as stand-alone legislation.