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Biden’s Recent Economic Scorecard: The Price on the Pump

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WASHINGTON — After topping $5 a gallon in June, the worth of gasoline has fallen for greater than a month. The Biden administration desires to inform you about it. Many times.

President Biden and his top aides are in an all-out campaign to trumpet what’s, as of Friday, 38 consecutive days of declines within the AAA average gas price nationwide. The president mentioned that streak in a news conference in Saudi Arabia and at the beginning of a speech on abortion rights. Aides have repeatedly trotted out charts showing the downward trajectory in news briefings and chastised reporters for not devoting more time to the topic.

When President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico needled Mr. Biden in a gathering on the White House this month, saying that Americans were crossing the border to purchase cheaper gas, the president interrupted him.

“It has gone down for 30 days in a row,” Mr. Biden said.

Celebrating the each day declines on the pump has change into his version of President Donald J. Trump’s rampant bragging about gains within the stock market: a public obsession with a single economic indicator in hopes of driving a winning narrative with consumers and voters.

Embracing this particular trend comes with obvious risks for Mr. Biden. Gas prices notoriously bounce up and down, and events outside his control could easily push them up again. If the administration’s efforts to impose a world price cap on Russian oil exports falls through before yr’s end, White House economists fear that prices could soar higher than they were this spring, to potentially $7 per gallon.

Gasoline cheerleading also poses an ironic challenge to Mr. Biden’s efforts to confront the mounting crisis of a warming planet.

The jump in prices has had the short-term effect of forcing budget-constrained Americans to drive less, temporarily reducing the consumption of fossil fuels that drive global warming. But White House aides say the high prices are usually not helping Mr. Biden’s efforts to maneuver the country to a low-emissions future. As a substitute, those costs may be undermining his longer-term climate goals by bolstering political and public support for more oil drilling and other fossil-fuel projects.

High prices for motorists have already soured voters on the president’s handling of the economy and his overall performance in office. Mr. Biden, who speaks regularly of growing up in a working-class family where “if the worth of gas went up, you felt it,” has for months tried to reassure voters that he’s doing whatever he can to bring those prices down.

When gasoline climbed past $3 a gallon nationwide in the autumn, as global demand for oil increased amid the rebound of economic activity from the pandemic, Mr. Biden opened the taps of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Within the spring, when prices reached $4 a gallon, he announced a waiver allowing summer sales of higher-ethanol gasoline, which costs barely less for drivers but emits more greenhouse gases over its life cycle.

Analysts say the president’s efforts could have helped hold down prices on the margins. But no economists give the administration even a majority of credit for the steep drop in global oil prices that began in early June. As a substitute, they point to market forces: reduced oil demand from China, which is enduring one other wave of restrictions due to coronavirus, and weakening economic activity in Europe and other wealthy nations. Russian oil has also continued to flow to world markets despite sanctions imposed by the US and other Western nations.

The common national price reported by AAA on Friday was $4.41 per gallon. The drop over the past month is more likely to produce a more favorable inflation rate for July than the 9.1 percent annual increase of the Consumer Price Index that the Labor Department reported for June. Industry analysts and futures markets suggest more relief is more likely to be expected in the approaching weeks.

Mr. Biden’s team has embraced the change. “Good morning!” Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Gas prices are happening.”

While administration officials sought to deflect blame for rising oil prices over the past yr, they were blissful to assert at the very least partial credit for the present decline.

“While there’s so much that goes into setting the worldwide oil and gas price,” Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a news briefing on Monday, “the historic actions taken by President Biden to handle the impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have helped and proceed to assist to extend the worldwide supply of oil and subsequently are in the combo of things driving down the worth.”

Republicans say they’re surprised the administration is celebrating in any respect, when prices remain greater than $2 a gallon higher than they were when Mr. Biden took office. (They don’t mention that he inherited an economy where global demand for oil was suppressed by the coronavirus pandemic.)

It may also seem counterintuitive that the president is encouraging lower gasoline costs while he pursues what aides promise shall be an ambitious unilateral agenda to chop greenhouse gas emissions. “I’ll do every thing in my power to wash our air and water,” Mr. Biden said at a climate event in Massachusetts on Wednesday, to “protect our people’s health, to win the clean energy future.”

Economists largely agree that raising the costs of fossil fuels like coal and gasoline is a method to be sure that consumers burn less of them and to encourage switching to lower-emission alternatives like electric vehicles. The Energy Department reported on Wednesday that gasoline use in the US was down nearly 8 percent over the past 4 weeks compared with the identical period a yr ago. That continued for the second quarter of the yr, which the Energy Information Administration said may need been the results of rising gasoline prices.

But Biden administration officials — even economists who’ve previously favored steps to boost taxes on fossil fuels — say the high prices are usually not helping the president’s climate agenda.

The costs are reinvigorating a push by Republicans for increased oil and gas drilling on federal lands, which Mr. Biden promised to finish while campaigning for president. Recent price volatility could also give customers pause once they consider buying a more efficient gas-powered vehicle, or an electrical one, when supply-chain shortages in the car industry are making it harder for consumers to purchase electric cars anyway.

Aides to Mr. Biden have privately said for months that to maintain Americans on board with the energy transition, gas prices need to come back down — definitely below $4 a gallon, and hopefully below $3, which was the national average at the beginning of last summer.

If prices proceed to say no at the speed they’ve over the past month, the nationwide average would slip below $3 a gallon in the ultimate weeks of campaigning before the midterm elections. In about 79 days, to be exact.

Not that anyone’s counting.

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