Obama: Illegal Manipulation Raising Gas Prices

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The debate over the price of gas took center stage at the White House, Tuesday.

Hoping to put a dent in rising gas prices eventually, President Barack Obama unveiled a $52 million energy plan giving the federal government stronger supervision of oil markets.

The measure increases penalties for market manipulation and boosts spending for enforcement of regulations on oil speculators.

"Today we're announcing new steps to strengthen oversight of energy markets," Obama said at the White House.

"We can't afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception that there's a shortage and driving prices higher, only to flip the oil for a quick profit," he added.

But Republicans say the plan is a political ploy.

Gas prices are a hot topic on the campaign trail. Even congressional candidates are weighing in, like Ohio Republican House candidate Samuel Wurzelbacher -- the man who became known as "Joe the Plumber" during the 2008 presidential campaign.

"As far as gas prices go, I tie it to the federal government," he recently said while campaigning.

Gas prices are a tough subject these days for both parties, with prices surging nearly 50 cents since late January.

The president has spent weeks trying to show he's working hard to solve the problem.

"I call on Congress to pass measures to crack down on illegal activity and hold accountable those who manipulate the market for private gain at the expense of working families," Obama said.

The president wants:

  • Six times more staff at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to supervise the market.
  • Increased spending on technology to provide better oversight and surveillance of energy markets.
  • Increased penalties against firms that engage in market manipulation from $1 million to $10 million.

- Authority for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to increase the amount of money a trader must put up to back a trading position, in hopes of limiting disruptions in energy markets.

Republicans have already been attacking the president's energy policies and this latest plan is no different.

"The president's policies are restricting American energy production, and he's looking for a scapegoat," a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said. "The American people aren't going to buy it."

What Americans do have to buy right now is expensive gas. Prices have eased slightly in the past two weeks but remain higher than last year.

Nationwide, the cost of gas averages $3.92 a gallon.

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