Discuss as:

In Reno, Obama talks gas prices, deficit

RENO, Nev. -- President Barack Obama chose a clean energy company here in the economically hard-hit state of Nevada -- certain to be an important battleground in the 2012 election -- as the backdrop for his third town hall this week focused on deficit reduction and the economy.

At nearly every stop in recent days, Obama has mentioned rising gas prices that are hitting drivers' pocketbooks -- a bid to show he understands the kitchen table issues facing ordinary Americans.

Noting that he asked Attorney General Eric Holder last month to investigate cases of price gouging, he announced Thursday that he is going a step further to keep gas prices from being inflated.

"The Attorney General's putting together a team whose job it is to root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices - and that includes the role of traders and speculators," the president said to applause. "We're going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of American consumers." 

As he often does, Obama again called for an end to subsidies for oil and gas companies that are already highly profitable. The argument is in line with Obama's call for an end to the Bush-era tax rates for wealthy Americans as part of his approach to lowering the deficit.

Obama's West Coast swing is focused on selling his "balanced" approach to getting the nation's fiscal house in order, which he says will be better for the economy than the plan passed by the Republican-controlled House. The GOP plan, he argues, cuts spending too deeply and benefits the wealthy at the expense of seniors, the poor and the middle class.

"We can't ignore our future deficits, but just as ignoring deficits would mortgage our future, failing to invest in our kids, in our infrastructure, in basic research, in clean energy, that would be mortgaging our future as well," Obama told the audience at ElectraTherm Inc., a company whose Green Machine creates fuel-free, emissions-free power by capturing readily-available waste heat. "I'm not willing to do that and that's at the core of the debate we're having right now."

Concerns about the debt and deficit, especially among Tea Party members and other conservatives, helped Republicans win big in the midterm elections. The White House is eager to drive home the point that both rank among the president's top concerns, along with job creation.

Obama has proposed a plan that he says would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion in the next 12 years, without sacrificing investments in the areas he believes are key to job growth and to America's ability to compete globally. After his opening remarks, the president took questions on topics ranging from federal support for renewable energy production to the importance of scientific and medical research and investing in education.

After the town hall here, Obama was headed to Los Angeles for three more fundraisers. He held three events to raise money for his campaign in San Francisco, including one this morning at the St. Regis hotel that was interrupted by a small group of supporters who sang a song in protest of the detention of Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.

The lyrics to the song included the following: "I paid my dues, where's our change? We'll vote for you in 2012, yes that's true. Look at the Republicans - what else can we do?"

As the woman who led the tune was escorted out, she said "Free Bradley manning. I'm leaving. I hope I don't get tortured in jail."

The president carried on with his remarks, quipping "That didn't break my flow."

A Democratic official said ticket prices for the event, which approximately 200 people attended, went as high as $35,800, but would not reveal the cost of the lowest tickets or share how much the party expected to raise there.