White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday declined to specify how the Biden administration plans to tackle soaring gas prices, despite assurances from the president that addressing the matter is a "top priority."
Asked during the daily press briefing whether President Biden would take a slate of different actions to address rising gas prices – including releasing barrels from the nation's emergency oil stockpile or reinstating a ban on U.S. oil exports – Psaki demurred.
"We're not just closely and directly monitoring the situation, which of course we've been doing," she said. "We're looking at every tool in our arsenal. You mentioned some of them. While I don't have anything to preview today, the president is quite focused on this, as is the economic team."
President Biden on Wednesday said he instructed his top economic aides to focus on reducing energy costs, which he blamed for accelerating inflation after the government reported that consumer prices jumped 6.2% in October from the previous year. It marked the steepest increase since December 1990.
"Inflation hurts Americans pocketbooks, and reversing this trend is a top priority for me," Biden said in a statement.
Energy costs played a large role in the inflation surge, skyrocketing 4.8% from September to October, with price increases widespread across the sector. The cost for gasoline (6.1%), heating oil (12.3%) and natural gas (6.2%) all jumped last month from September, largely due to severely lopsided supply and demand: Americans are traveling more, but the supply side has not kept up with the demand.
In the past year, energy costs have jumped a stunning 30%, with gasoline soaring by nearly 50%. A gallon of gas, on average, was $3.42 nationwide on Tuesday, according to AAA – up from $2.11 a year ago.
Prices for natural gas and heating oil are also on the rise; the Energy Information Administration has predicted that Americans could spend up to 30% more on natural gas and 43% more on heating oil this winter.
Rising inflation is eating away at strong gains and wages and salaries that American workers have seen in recent months – bad news for both Biden administration officials as well as Federal Reserve policymakers, many of whom have been downplaying the recent spike in consumer prices as "transitory" and likely to abate as pandemic-induced disruptions in the supply chain faded.
Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have urged Biden to curb rising energy costs, and Psaki acknowledged on Friday that the president is in communication with oil-producing countries that are part of OPEC and has asked them to consider increasing the supply. Oil prices have hit more than $80 a barrel, pushing the cost of gasoline higher for consumers.
"I would note that we have taken a range of action," she said. "We've communicated with the FTC to crack down on illegal pricing. We have communicated with countries and entities abroad like OPEC on increasing supply. We're looking at a range of options we have at our disposal. But I don't have anything here to preview for you."
Psaki's comments come just a few days after Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm suggested that Biden could take action as soon as this week on measures to address the rising cost of gasoline – something that looks increasingly unlikely to happen.
"Hopefully there will be an announcement or so this week," Granholm said on Monday. She did not provide additional details.