Gas prices rose 11 cents in overnight heading into Tuesday, now averaging $4.17 nationwide, and they have never been recorded higher, according to the American Automobile Association. In the wake of President Biden’s announcement that the United States would no longer buy Russian oil, those numbers are expected to rise even further.
There is no price ceiling in sight. There is no end in sight, either. Gas prices have risen faster than they ever have, and that was before the ban on Russian oil was announced.
If this is all about standing with Ukraine, Americans right now might be willing to sacrifice more at the pump.
A Reuters/IPSOS poll released Friday found that 80 percent of Americans believed that the US should stop buying Russian oil even if it meant higher gas prices as a response to the Russian attack on Ukraine.
Indeed, the idea is so bipartisan that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Ted Cruz agreed that Biden’s decision to do it was a good one.
The looming question, however, is that while Americans are ok with it now, with emotions high from an invasion that started a little over a week ago, how will they feel about it in the summer, when prices traditionally go higher? And, further, how will they feel about it during the November elections?
Republicans, after all, have talked a lot about gas prices that were already rising going back to the fall. And Republicans weren’t wrong to bring it up. Beyond scoring a good political point, studies have found that rising gas prices have been a driver of higher inflation versus just being affected by it.
The latest government estimate is that inflation is at its highest level in 40 years. Americans are feeling it, as the February job numbers showed: Wage growth, even in a tight labor market, didn’t keep up with inflation.
While Biden is rightly focused on rallying the world against Russian aggression, it is still an election year, and soon enough he will need to explain why, exactly, Americans are paying so much more at the pump — and why it’s in the national interest that they are doing so.
Biden hasn’t had to face a challenge of convincing the American people like this so far in his presidency. Before, when it came bad economic news — like supply chain issues, sluggish job news, or inflation, the Biden administration would blame the pandemic and suggest it was just a blip. In this case, however, the Biden administration announced they will wind down buying Russian oil over the course of the year, meaning America could be just at the beginning of whatever hardships might be coming.
His powers of persuasion have worked in some cases — piecing together passage of parts of his domestic agenda like COVID relief and an infrastructure bill — but didn’t when it came to a broader spending package and items like election reform.
But passing bills on Capitol Hill involves just 535 politicians. When it comes to Americans broadly, 64 percent of whom are now living paycheck to paycheck, convincing them to pay more because of a war the US isn’t even involved in could be much trickier.
Yes, Biden has been upfront, in his State of the Union address and with this announcement on Tuesday, that there will be sacrifice asked of Americans as the US phases out Russian oil.
But at a time when Americans are so divided, and the economic cost of this sacrifice so high, the challenge could be especially steep politically.