Get ready for gas prices to drop below $3 a gallon — and for the political football to be tossed around again:
South Carolina is the first state to see its gas prices drop below $3 a gallon – the first time a state price has been that low since January.
AAA, the national motorists’ organization, forecasts that within the next week, the Palmetto State, whose average gasoline price is now $2.98 a gallon, might be joined by Mississippi (currently at $3.05 a gallon), Alabama ($3.06), and Tennessee ($3.06) – just in time for the Independence Day holiday. Prices in those states are dropping by about a penny a gallon per day.
It’s not out of the question that yet other states might crack the $3-a-gallon level by Labor Day.
Nationally, the price has a little further to fall to get below the $3 level. The national price of regular gasoline on Wednesday was $3.38 a gallon, which was 26 cents a gallon lower than a month ago and 18 cents a gallon lower than a year ago, according to AAA.
And the price decline is accelerating, says Michael Green, a spokesman for AAA. “This is great news as we move into the middle of the summer driving season,” he says.
The falling price of gas is a key reason that AAA predicts a decade-high number of travelers – some 42.3 million – on the road for the Fourth of July holiday. This would be up 4.9 percent from last year.
“Declining gasoline prices are motivating a lot of people to get on the road. And because the holiday is on a Wednesday, a lot of people are planning to take off the entire week,” Mr. Green says.
Gas prices are an important factor in how consumers feel about the economy. Many people know how much they paid for their last tank of gasoline. In addition, they see the price advertised at gas stations every day.
Tumbling gasoline prices is one reason that consumer confidence has held up, says chief economist Dennis Jacobe of Gallup, the polling organization.
And, now, get ready for gas prices to be used as a political football — which requires memory loss in terms of what the parties said when prices were going up. You can expect:
The reality, according to many experts: it isn’t a President’s fault when gas prices go up and not his magical powers when they go down. The issue is a political football, but partisans know how capitalize on the rage when they’re high and how to benefit when they’re low.
Republicans are reacting in a predicted way:
President Obama would seem to be in line to have some credit pointed his way. Having been roundly criticized for the spike in gas prices earlier this year, you would think he would deserve the credit for their rapid falling. The Republican Party would argue otherwise. Republicans who incessantly criticized President Obama’s energy policies as being the causes of the price increases say he has absolutely nothing to do with their fall and deserves no credit
Average prices of gasoline have fallen more than $.70 per gallon since the reached a high of $4.00 earlier this year. Yet Senator John Barraso who was one of the more vocal critics of Obama’s energy policies now just continues to criticize. When prices were rising he said,
“[Obama is] fully responsible for what the American public is paying for gasoline” and calling the administration’s energy policies “at best ineffective and at worst … contributing to the higher gas prices,”
Yet when the Huffington Post asked the Senator if he still held the President responsible now that the prices have fallen he said,
“People are still feeling pain at the pump and pain at the plug, and it’s a result of the administration policies,”
As the price at the pump surged this winter and spring, Republicans seized the issue to attack President Obama.
Mitt Romney called on President Obama to fire his “gas hike trio,” three top Cabinet officials he accused of helping hike fuel prices. Then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich pledged to bring back the days of $2.50 a-gallon gas. And Speaker John Boehner told his GOP troops behind closed doors that, “This debate is a debate we want to have.”
As gas prices have dipped, the issue has all but disappeared as a talking point, both on the campaign trail and in the halls of Congress. Two charts tell the tale. The first tracks the price of gas.oline since January 2008, the last presidential election year. Since then, there have been three distinct spikes in prices, in June 2008, May 2011 and earlier this year
Go to the link to view the charts (which can’t be copied and reproduced here).
The contours of the political debate and the gas price chart match almost seamlessly. In 2008, as the pace of the price decreases leveled off for a month, so too did the political chatter. In 2009, as prices fluctuated up and down slightly, the talking points on the floor did as well.
Economists generally agree that politicians can do little about gasoline prices, particularly in the short term. But that doesn’t stop them from talking about it. Or the public from blaming them when prices soar. In April, an ABC News /Washington Post poll had 62 percent of the public disapproving of President Obama’s handling of gas prices.
The National Journal suggests that falling gas prices will help Obama (even though it shouldn’t) much as rising gas prices were hurting him (even though they shouldn’t have).
The one consistency here: political hypocrisy.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.