The Biden administration must have a high opinion of itself. When its members find themselves in a political bind, they have a habit of redirecting your attention elsewhere in a manipulative effort to change the subject—at least, they hope—for long enough that the news cycle moves on from the present conundrum. It’s a marvel that they’re still deploying this tactic because it invariably fails.
As the war in Europe rages and with energy prices on the rise, the Biden administration will reportedly take what White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain touts as the “historic” step of releasing 1 million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the next 180 days. This attempt to drive down gas prices to combat the “Putin price hike”—another gimmick that almost no one bought—will be accompanied by a variety of attempts at misdirection.
The White House will pair the release of America’s strategic reserves with the invocation of the Defense Production Act, which will compel private firms to increase the production of electric-vehicle batteries. Biden will also impose a “use it or lose it” requirement on the fossil-fuel producers, who the administration insists are inexplicably sitting on 9,000 approved leases, even in this high-reward environment. This blatant scapegoating is incoherent in both practical and political terms.
An administration headed by a president who has made a point of prioritizing green-energy policies cannot reinvent itself as one of the most pro-fossil fuel administrations in modern history. It’s a wonder that they even tried. It’s just as incomprehensible that the administration is seeking to demonize energy producers while simultaneously leaning on them to provide Americans with relief from the present crisis. The Biden team wants you to believe fossil-fuel producers are stubbornly refusing to respond to market incentives, which assumes quite a lot of ignorance on your part.
It takes many years to develop the deposits on a leased plot, if exploitable deposits exist at all. And leasing is only step one. The lessee must also secure permitting to extract those deposits and develop the infrastructure required to transport the product from the point of extraction. Perversely, “use it or lose it” could increase the price of energy in futures markets by reducing the “deep inventory” producers rely on as a backstop against severe price swings. And if the administration was serious about relieving the pressure on energy producers, repealing early Biden-era executive orders that make fuel more expensive would be a show of good faith.
If this stunt fails, it will only be the latest. The Biden administration attempted a similar scapegoating in November of last year as energy prices increased in response to inflation. That, too, went absolutely nowhere.
“The bottom line is this: gasoline prices at the pump remain high, even though oil and gas companies’ costs are declining,” Biden wrote in a letter to the FTC. “The Federal Trade Commission has authority to consider whether illegal conduct is costing families at the pump. I believe you should do so immediately.” The White House alleged that “anti-competitive or otherwise potentially illegal conduct” could be to blame for the pain Americans were experiencing at the pump.
The administration didn’t stop there. The White House leaned on the Agriculture Department to investigate large meatpacking firms, accusing them of profiteering during the pandemic, and the Federal Martine Commission was tasked with ferreting out price gouging by large shipping companies. What became of these investigations? Not much. Nor was the public whipped up into a populist rage over the idea that corporate greed was to blame for their circumstances rather than the supply-chain breakdowns, higher overhead costs, and labor shortages they themselves were experiencing. And why would Americans have bought this? It was the height of condescension to think voters could be manipulated into ignoring the evidence of their own eyes.
Perhaps the most egregious example of the administration’s gimmicky efforts to extricate itself from a bad news cycle was the promotion of a federal program aimed at distributing facemasks and Covid tests to the public at the peak of the Omicron wave.
Early this year, the White House announced that it would make 400 million N95 masks available to the public for free beginning in late January. Moreover, Americans would now be able to order free, at-home rapid Covid tests from the federal government. It was as much a response to a surge in Covid infections that had already begun to fade by the time this federal initiative was announced as it was a reaction to a suddenly hostile press corps. The White House was under siege over its failure to prepare for that variant. There were shortages of tests and personal protective equipment, and the administration was under intense pressure to do… something. And for a time, the stunt took some of that pressure off.
But even when this initiative was unveiled, it was obvious that putting masks and tests in the public’s hands within seven to 12 business days, if not more, lacked the appropriate urgency. Within one month, the Omicron surge had receded to the point that the CDC withdrew indoor-masking guidelines for much of the country. The free masks and tests initiative achieved its primary goal—getting the Biden White House out of a difficult spot—but it didn’t produce a deep well of affection for the administration’s handling of the pandemic. Polls indicate that the president’s management of Covid was underwater for much of this year, and it has only recovered as the virus declined and mitigation measures disappeared.
The Biden administration loves a good stunt. We can expect many more in the future, if only because this White House’s contempt for your intelligence is rivaled only by its unearned regard for its own.