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Kerry, Bush Eye High Gas Prices

With the start of the summer driving season approaching and gasoline prices soaring, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said the United States should strive for energy independence.

President Bush noted steps the administration is taking to try to ease prices at the pump, and blamed Congress for not acting on energy legislation he said would make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil.

Kerry, in the weekly Democratic radio address Saturday said, "There are two reasons why we cannot be asleep at the wheel during this current energy crisis. First, soaring energy prices are putting our economy at risk and second, our dependence on Middle East oil is putting our national security at risk. But it doesn't have to be this way."

In the short term, the Massachusetts senator said, the United States should divert oil being used to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and bring it to market. The White House says, though, that would have only a negligible impact on pump prices. Kerry also said the country's leaders should demand that Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing nations increase supply.

OPEC's president said Saturday the cartel is "deeply concerned" about the recent rise in oil prices but deferred making a decision on increasing its output target until its members meet next month.

Under intense pressure to pump more oil to reduce crude prices, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries discussed a Saudi proposal for an 8.5 percent increase in the production target. But Saturday's talks were informal, and the group is to decide whether to follow the Saudi lead when all of its members meet on June 3 in Beirut, OPEC president Purnomo Yusgiantoro told a news conference.

In the radio address, Kerry said his long-term strategy as president would include investments in alternative fuels and new technologies that are more fuel-efficient. He said he would establish tax credits to help make fuel-efficient cars more affordable.

"Our dependence on foreign oil is a problem we must solve together the only way we can - by inventing our way out of it," Kerry said.

The average price per gallon rose to $2.017 this week, the first time the national average has exceeded $2. Kerry and other Democrats blame Mr. Bush and Republican leaders for allowing prices to rise so high, and his radio address reiterated the case he made earlier this week on the campaign trail.

"We're at war and families are struggling to make ends meet, especially with rising gas prices," Kerry said. "For our security, our economy and our environment, we must make America energy independent."

Mr. Bush devoted a portion of his weekly radio address Saturday to responding to the criticism that his administration is not doing enough to curb gasoline prices. He noted three steps Washington was taking to address the problem.

To protect consumers against high prices, he said, the Energy Department had set up a hotline to gather complaints of price gouging. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is meeting with world petroleum producers in Amsterdam this weekend to discuss what they can do to help the U.S. and global economy. Third, Mr. Bush said, federal regulations have been changed to allow American refineries to improve and expand so that gasoline can get to the market quickly.

The president also said Congress isn't doing enough to keep gas prices from soaring. He cited the failure of Congress to enact his energy plan: "Three years is long enough. I urge the Congress to end the delays, and pass comprehensive energy legislation."

Mr. Bush said his plan would make the U.S. less dependent on foreign sources of energy by way of conservation measures - and new drilling in Alaska. He said those measures are being blocked by members of the Senate - and American consumers are paying the price.

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