President Barack Obama called on Congress on Tuesday to increase federal supervision of oil markets and to provide a way for bigger penalties for those who manipulate markets, saying it was time to put ''more cops on the beat.''
Standing in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Obama chided Republicans who have been calling for increased American production as a way to rein in gasoline prices.
''There are politicians who say if we just drill more, gas prices will come down,'' said Mr. Obama, who was flanked by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. ''What they don't say is that we have been drilling more.''
The president said no amount of drilling would solve the fundamental imbalance ''that we use more than 20 percent of the world's oil and we only have 2 percent of the world's oil reserves.''
Mr. Obama announced a $52 million proposal meant to try to rein in market speculation, which administration officials believe has helped drive spikes in the prices Americans are paying at the gas pump. He asked Congress to increase the surveillance and enforcement staff at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
While gasoline prices have lately begun to come down, the nationwide average is still almost $4 per gallon. Mr. Obama's political advisers believe that $5 a gallon gas could cripple his re-election run.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, and other Republican critics of the president have tried to link the president to the high prices at the pump.
Mr. Obama, for his part, has criticized oil industry tax breaks, calling on Congress to end the subsidies for oil companies, which have been operating at record profits.
''We can't afford a situation where some speculators can reap millions while millions of American families get the short end of the stick,'' Mr. Obama said.
His proposal drew quick praise from some energy experts who have been calling for a clamp down on market manipulation.
''President Obama's proposal will make it harder for Wall Street speculators to drive up oil prices,'' said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a research group with close ties to the Obama White House. ''If Congress adopted these reforms, they would limit Wall Street speculators' ability to bid up prices.''
Of course, getting Congress to adopt these changes is a pretty huge caveat. Congressional Republicans have their own energy proposal and many say they do not believe that market manipulation is the cause of rising gas prices. The House speaker, Representative John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, is pushing for more domestic oil and natural gas exploration, and a freeze on regulations on refineries.
Republicans quickly criticized the Obama proposal. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, said in a statement: ''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. It never has in the past.''
A Republican National Committee spokeswoman, Kirsten Kukowski, added, in an e-mail to reporters, ''Today's Rose Garden event is just another gimmick - a shiny object to distract from the fact that Obama doesn't have a solution for gas prices.''
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