Bush Won't Make Gas Prices Forecast

Peter Maer is a CBS News White House correspondent.
The former oil man in the Oval Office refuses to predict the future course of gasoline prices. In a with CBS News in the White House Roosevelt Room, President Bush declined to offer his own price at the pump forecast. He recalled the hit he took earlier this year when, at a news conference, he told me that he had not heard about analysts' predictions of four buck a gallon gas. At the time he described the forecast as "interesting."

Fast forward to our latest conversation:

Maer: "Where do you think it (the price of gasoline) is going to level off?"

The President: "You know, that's—I am not a very good prognosticator. You're trying to get me to guess. I fouled up your last question you asked me, so I'm not going to foul this one up. It's just high. It's very high. And, you know, it's just too darn bad because this economy was doing fine, and then we had the housing issue, and then this gasoline issue is making it harder for the economy to recover. It's growing—don't get me wrong, it's positive, but it could be a lot better with lower gasoline prices."

Mr. Bush insisted that he's not surprised that prices are hovering near the four-dollar mark now. He pointed to "the demand for oil relative to supply." But the president won't deal with the demand side with any sweeping call for Americans to curtail their driving.

He believes that "the market has a way of convincing people to drive less, depending on their ability to afford."

He will also continue to resist any efforts to increase taxes on oil companies. The president told my broadcast partner Mark Knoller, "What I'd like to see is those—the cash being generated as a result of higher energy prices put back in the ground so that we can have more supply, which will benefit the consumers a lot more than the government taking that money and growing the size of government."

Later this week, the president will make another pitch for the Saudis to increase fuel output. The oil rich kingdom resisted a similar request during a presidential visit earlier this year. In our interview, he almost shouted "THE PRICE IS EVEN HIGHER" (than it was when during his January visit to Saudi Arabia.) But he indicated he'll probably come up dry with his forthcoming request.

"I think the reality, Peter, is this: that when you analyze the capacity for countries to put oil in the market, it's just not like it used to be. The demand for oil is so high relative to supply these days that there's just not a lot of excess capacity."

That brings the conversation back to supply and demand and the stark fact that fuel prices will keep increasing for the foreseeable future.

A decline in sales of some gas-guzzling SUVs shows some consumers are getting the message. Recent reports also point a slight decline in overall national demand for fuel. To paraphrase the president, those who can afford it will drive as much as they want. But skyrocketing oil costs are forcing many Americans, to pinch pennies and make some tough financial choices.
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    Peter Maer is a CBS News White House Correspondent.