CNBC anchor Becky Quick grilled Biden Cabinet member Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday as to whether the White House was premature in “taking a victory lap” over a recent decline in gas prices.
Quick asked Buttigieg, the Transportation Secretary, if the White House was prepared to take the blame if prices rise again later this summer. Oil prices, a key input for retail gas prices, is still trading above $102 per barrel.
“There have been White House representatives out this week taking a victory lap, saying prices are down at the pump,” Quick said. “That is surely the case, but I just wonder how concerned you should be about taking a victory lap yet. Most Wall Street analysts are anticipating that we will see higher energy prices.”
“If prices go back up, do you then have to take blame for the higher prices you take a victory lap now?” she asked.
Buttigieg noted the White House is aware that gas prices are still too high.
“No one’s out here saying ‘mission accomplished,’” Buttigieg said. “We just want to make that it’s understood that the measures the president and the administration have taken to help to reduce the price of oil seem to be having an effect.”
“We all know that no administration, no policymaker, no president directly controls the price of gas or the price of oil,” he added.
Buttigieg said it was “encouraging” that gas has fallen below $4 per gallon in “most states.”
The national average gas price hit $4.467 per gallon as of Wednesday, a decline of more than 50 cents from a record high of $5.016 per gallon on June 14. However, prices are still well above where they were one year ago, when a gallon at the pump cost $3.166.
Despite the steep costs still facing American motorists, White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein and others have touted the administration’s efforts to combat gas prices that helped drive inflation to a four-decade high of 9.1% in June.
Bernstein described the recent downtick as “one of the fastest declines in retail gas prices in a decade.” Meanwhile, a post Biden’s official Twitter account attributed the improvement to the president’s release of oil from the strategic US reserve.
“Our actions are working, and prices are coming down,” Biden said.
It’s still unclear how long the declines will last. Oil has fallen in recent weeks as investors worry that Federal Reserve rate hikes will trigger an economic slowdown, while a strong US dollar has weighed on demand for oil aboard, according to Reuters.
Critics have argued that Biden’s tough stance against domestic energy firms has exacerbated the problem and questioned the long-term effectiveness of the administration’s moves, such as a temporary federal gas tax holiday.
Meanwhile, most Americans are skeptical of Biden’s ability to tackle long-term inflation. A recent poll placed Biden’s economic approval rating at just 30%, a lower number than either of his presidential predecessors.