The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Business

April 17, 2012

Obama urges Congress to increase pressure on oil market manipulation

WASHINGTON — As he continues to get heat for high gas prices, President Barack Obama tried to shift the focus to Congress on Tuesday when he called on lawmakers to pass a legislation he said would crack down on manipulation in the oil market.

In brief remarks in the Rose Garden, Obama called on Congress to boost funding for regulators and increase penalties for market manipulators. The president suggested that traders and speculators could be affecting the price of oil, something American consumers can’t afford, he said.

“We still need to work extra hard to protect consumers from factors that should not affect the price of a barrel of oil, and that includes doing everything we can to ensure that an irresponsible few aren’t able to hurt consumers by illegally manipulating or rigging the energy markets for their own gain,” Obama said.

Republicans jumped on the president’s announcement to accuse the president of turning to gimmicks to deflect political pressure. Analysts largely attribute the rise in the price of oil to unrest in the Middle East and economic growth, not market manipulation.

Obama acknowledged Tuesday that “global trends” determine prices, but argued that increased trading and prices create the need for increased oversight.

“Imagine if the NFL quadrupled the number of teams, but didn’t increase the number of refs,” Obama said. “You’d end up having havoc on the field, and it would diminish the game. It wouldn’t be fair. That’s part of what’s going on in a lot of these markets.”

Obama’s proposal would increase the current budget for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission by $52 million to pay for “more cops on the beat,” officials said. The president also proposed increasing maximum civil and criminal penalties for manipulative activity in oil futures markets.

“Congress should do all of this right away,” Obama said, blasting congressional Republicans for blocking legislation that would have eliminated subsidies for oil companies. “Here’s a chance to make amends, a chance to actually do something that will protect consumers by increasing oversight of the energy market.”

Republicans on the Hill have pushed to cut funding for the CFTC. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed the proposal as a political ploy.

“If I were to guess, I’d say today’s proposal by the president probably polls pretty well. But I guarantee you it won’t do a thing to lower the price of gas at the pump,” McConnell said. “It never has in the past. White House officials admit as much. Why it would it now?”

 

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