Bush Campaign Lies

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Bush Campaign Lie #47: Kerry Flip-Flopped On The Strategic Petroleum Reserve 

This is the final alleged Kerry flip-flop in the GOP list, and none too soon. Here we have another case where the GOP are quoting Kerry with perfect accuracy, but leaving out crucial context. So without further ado, here's the rundown of the GOP evidence:

  1. On February 17, 2000, Platts Oilgram News (registration required) reported: ". . . Kerry, a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested the US could retaliate economically in other trade areas. He also said he does not want a release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. A release 'is not relevant. It would take months for the oil to get to the market,' he said."
  2. Then on March 30, 2004, Reuters reported: "'The Bush administration has put the SPR fill program on automatic pilot without regard to the short-term effect on the US market,' the Kerry campaign said. 'The program needs better management.'

    Kerry would temporarily suspend filling SPR until oil prices return to normal levels."
So the Republicans have their facts straight, and it does look like Kerry has reversed himself. As usual, what's missing is the context.

The key ingredient here is timing. We are meant to assume that Kerry's main concern in both instances is the price of gas for automobiles. It isn't. While Kerry's current motivation is to drive down prices at the pump, that was not his main concern in February 2000. Then, he was worried about the cost of home heating fuel. In fact, the same Oilgram News article cited in item (1) also mentioned legislation Kerry authored which would require 'the Energy Information Administration to produce a yearly report outlining the nation's energy readiness ahead of the winter heating season.' So although one might question Kerry's assertion that any release from SPR would have taken 'months' to get to market, one can also understand why he thought such a release was 'not relevant'. His constituents were cold in February; he wasn't going to consider a solution which brought relief in June.

There are a few other factors to take into account, too. According to CNN, the price of crude oil at the time was 'over $30 a barrel' (so presumably less than $31 a barrel), the average price of a gallon of gas was $1.41, and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve only contained 569 million barrels of crude.

Today, according to the Reuters article, the price of crude oil is 'over $38 a barrel', the average price of a gallon of gas is $1.758 a gallon, and this time Kerry's main focus is the price of gasoline, not heating oil. And there are now 656.6 million barrels of crude oil in the SPR. So the risk to the economy is greater, as is the amount of oil we have to 'play with' in the SPR.

There's one other key point to note: the statements Kerry made in 2000 and 2004, even devoid of context, aren't truly opposites of one another. In 2000, Kerry opposed draining the SPR. Today he's still not advocating that oil be removed from SPR, just that we temporarily suspend putting any more oil in. And this is not an uncommon practice. A document on the Department of Energy website tells us, first, that the maximum capacity of SPR is 700 million barrels (so we're already at more than 93% of capacity anyway), and second:

On several occasions, the Energy Department has rescheduled incoming oil shipments to the Reserve, deferring them for several months to a year or more. In these instances, companies under contract to deliver crude oil to the Federal Government agree to increase the volume of oil shipped to the Reserve at the later date at no additional cost to the taxpayer. This also permits more oil to remain on the market and available to consumers during times when supplies are tight (emphasis mine).
What Kerry's proposing isn't even all that uncommon. In short, since the U.S. is experiencing record high gas prices, Kerry is suggesting that Bush should take the same steps to deal with it that the country has taken in the past.

The upshot is, March of 2004 is not February of 2000. The facts changed, and Kerry's position changed appropriately. That's not a 'flip-flop'.


Update: Atrios notes that Matt Drudge, that exemplar of objective, hard-hitting journalism, leads off today with the question 'Release the Emergency Reserves?' under John Kerry's picture, even though, consistent with our original post, Kerry is still not suggesting that.

10:51 PM