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McCain camp hits Obama on gas prices

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
The McCain campaign held a conference call to hit Obama on his stance on gas prices, accusing him of having said in an interview with CNBC's John Harwood that Americans should "somehow get used to higher gas prices."

VIDEO: The presumptive Democratic nominee discusses gas prices, taxes, the housing crisis and other matters with CNBC's John Harwood.

"Clearly the country is in shock when they see escalating gas prices," Republican Virginia congressman Eric Cantor said. "It's time for us to act. What we heard yesterday was Barack Obama indicate he is out of touch." He added that "Somehow the American people should sort of somehow get used to higher gas prices … reflects that he just doesn't get it.

That people would "just have to get used to them is just out of touch," Cantor said.

But is the assertion taken out of context, and in fact, a mischaracterization? 

When asked by Harwood if higher gas prices were an incentive to shift to alternative means of energy, Obama said the U.S. has "been slow to move in a better direction when it comes to energy usage." When Harwood followed up and asked if the higher prices then could actually help, Obama responded this way:
 
"I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment. The fact that this is such a shock to American pocketbooks is not a good thing. But if we take some steps right now to help people make the adjustment, first of all by putting more money into their pockets, but also by encouraging the market to adapt to these new circumstances more quickly, particularly U.S. automakers, then I think ultimately, we can come out of this stronger and have a more efficient energy policy than we do right now."

The McCain campaign also criticized Obama on being against the gas tax holiday, a fight Obama fought against Clinton in the run up to the Indiana and North Carolina primaries.

"Sen. McCain is not out of touch," said campaign adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin. He said a gas tax suspension would help truckers reliant on diesel fuel and "families to get through the summer."

Holtz-Eakin, like Clinton did, raised the specter of hypocrisy, saying Obama has "dismissed" the gas tax holiday "as a gimmick even though he voted for it in Illinois." Holtz-Eakin said "it worked in Illinois." Obama has said it did not work in Illinois, which is why he now does not support such measures.

Holtz-Eakin was asked if being in favor of the gas-tax holiday was risky politically given that economists have largely panned the idea and Obama seemed to win the point against Clinton, the adviser said McCain's "political calculations are based on what's the right thing for the American people." He puts "what's right first and politics second."

He defended the gas-tax holiday as a "successful way to do something quickly." He said it "isn't a panacea, but can be done quickly and done simply. What Sen. Obama is proposing [a $1,000 middle-class tax cut], you couldn't sort it out with 100 tax accountants."

NOTES: Interestingly, the McCain campaign was asked by Amanda Carpenter at the conservative blog, Townhall.com, if McCain is still against drilling in ANWR given the high gas prices. Holtz-Eakin replied that McCain believes "drilling in ANWR is not wise at this time." A sign the right is none-too-happy with McCain's energy policy?
 
Fuller transcript of CNBC interview on the gas prices question:
HARWOOD: As you know, gas prices now have hit a national average of over $4 a gallon. You have criticized the idea that John McCain has floated of a gas tax holiday as a gimmick. Is the reality of the situation for American consumers that there's nothing that you could do as president or anybody could do as president in the short term to relieve that pain?
 
Sen. OBAMA: What is true is that given the global price of oil right now, that we can't artificially lower gas prices. What we can do is provide people immediate relief through our tax code. And so I've proposed accelerating a second stimulus rebate to put hundreds of dollars into the pockets of families to offset some of these rising costs during the summer and into the fall.
When I'm president next year, what I'd like to do is pass a middle class tax cut, $1,000 per family per year to offset higher prices in gas, food, medical care. Long-term, though, the only way we're going to deal with these high gas prices is if we change how we consume oil. And that means investing in alternative fuels, it means that we are raising fuel efficiency standards on cars, that we're helping the automakers retool. Obviously, consumers are changing their habits pretty rapidly. But our US automakers are going to need some help retooling. We should be encouraging that. And when we look at other ways that we're using energy, we have to adapt renewable, clear energies like solar, wind and biodiesel. And I've got an Apollo project, a Manhattan project, to embark upon that new energy future that we need.
 
HARWOOD: As difficult as this is for consumers right now, is, in fact, high gas prices what we need to let the market work, a line incentive so that we do shift to alternative means of energy?
 
Sen. OBAMA: Well, I think that we have been slow to move in a better direction when it comes to energy usage. And the president, frankly, hasn't had an energy policy. And as a consequence, we've been consuming energy as if it's infinite. We now know that our demand is badly outstripping supply with China and India growing as rapidly as they are. So...
 
HARWOOD: So could these high prices help us?
 
Sen. OBAMA: I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment. The fact that this is such a shock to American pocketbooks is not a good thing. But if we take some steps right now to help people make the adjustment, first of all by putting more money into their pockets, but also by encouraging the market to adapt to these new circumstances more quickly, particularly US automakers, then I think ultimately, we can come out of this stronger and have a more efficient energy policy than we do right now.