President Barack Obama proposed tougher measures Tuesday to fight the illegal manipulation of oil markets, saying his plan would protect American consumers against artificially inflated gasoline prices.
The country cannot have some speculators reap millions of dollars in illegal profits while consumers suffer, said Obama. “We cannot afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage and driving prices higher, only to flip the oil for a quick profit."
The president is asking Congress for $52 million worth of reforms in the way oil trading is monitored. He wants to hire six times more employees at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which supervises oil markets.
He also wants to raise the penalties for market rigging and allow regulators to require more money to back up speculative trading. “Things that we can do administratively, we are doing," he noted. "And I call on Congress to pass a package of measures to crack down on illegal activity and hold accountable those who manipulate the market for private gain at the expense of millions of working families."
As with many of the president’s initiatives, the stricter oil market regulations could face an uncertain future in Congress. The top Senate Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, criticized Obama’s proposal as a political stunt. “The president’s goal here is not to do something about the problem," suggested McConnell. "It is to make people think he is doing something about the problem until the next crisis comes along.”
Republicans have vigorously opposed the president’s energy policies and they reject most additional financial regulations, saying it costs jobs.
President Obama has been focusing on energy policy lately, with the election less than five months away and Americans worried about the cost of fuel.
U.S. gasoline prices have eased somewhat in recent weeks, after surging in recent months.