Republicans on the Hill are criticizing President Obama's trial balloon notion of releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).
While the White House insists no decision on tapping the SPR has been made - they haven't figured which way the political wind is blowing on the issue - the GOP insists that Obama's recognition that "supply matters" means that he should build the Keystone pipeline and open other areas to oil exploration.
In response, the White House has launched a full-court press to undercut Republican efforts to blame Obama's energy policies for the high prices. The president has made four high-profile energy speeches during the last month and he will travel to Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Ohio on Wednesday and Thursday to continue touting his energy plan.
Obama has stressed that there are no quick-fixes to high gas prices, while also reassuring the public that he is doing everything within his power to give consumers relief. He has highlighted the administration's "all-of-the-above" energy plan, which includes expanded domestic oil production, improved vehicle fuel efficiency and increased investments in renewable energy.
It remains unclear whether tapping the SPR will be a part of Obama's energy strategy. But Republicans are nonetheless preparing their counter-offensive.
A Senate GOP aide says Republicans will likely argue that releasing oil from the SPR is an acknowledgment by the president that "supply matters." Republicans would then counter that if the president wants increased supply, he should expand domestic production and approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
But Mark Mellman, president of the Mellman Group and a Democratic strategist, said Republicans may find it difficult to successfully criticize Obama for releasing oil from the SPR.
"If the Republicans want to attack lowering gas prices, that puts them in a pretty strange position frankly," he said, noting that expanded development likely won't bring new supplies online for years.
The GOP can rightly argue that Obama has done nothing to increase oil supplies for three years and has, in fact, done much to hinder development. But whether this is a winning strategy or not will depend on how the tapping of the SPR - if it is to happen - plays with the voter. Currently a letter is circulating on the Hill from liberal Democrats asking Obama to tap the SPR. The Reserve was never intended to be used in anything except emergencies brought about by war or natural disasters. Given the likely small results from a release of the SPR (most analysts believe it won't bring prices at the pump down, but will relieve some upward pressure on consumer fuel costs), it may backfire on the president when people expect prices to go down and they keep rising instead.
Obama would dearly love Congress to backstop him on the release, but that isn't likely to happen - even getting support from his own party. But the GOP's assault on the president's energy policies may force him to take the gamble and release the Reserves.