Obama presses on gas prices, Clinton highlights energy bill

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Democrat Barack Obama on Friday blamed high gasoline prices on Washington and a political establishment, including his rivals for the presidency, that he says hasn't stood up to oil companies. Hillary Rodham Clinton highlighted his vote for an energy bill she opposed and his campaign contributions from oil company executives.

"The candidates with the Washington experience-my opponents-are good people. They mean well, but they've been in Washington for a long time and even with all that experience they talk about, nothing has happened," Obama said at a local gas station. "This country didn't raise fuel efficiency standards for over 30 years."

The result, the Illinois senator said, is that consumers are suffering.

"So what have we got to show for all that experience?" Obama asked. "Gas that's approaching $4 a gallon."

Clinton, who is challenging him for the Democratic presidential nomination, derided his promise to take on special interests.

"When it came time to stand up against the oil companies, to stand against Dick Cheney's energy bill, my opponent voted for it and I voted against it," the New York senator said at a rally at Indiana University in Bloomington. "And that bill had billions of dollars in giveaways to the oil companies. It was the best bill that the energy companies could buy."

The 2005 energy bill actually raised taxes on the oil and gas industry by about 300 million over 11 years, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Clinton also criticized Obama campaign ads that say he doesn't take money from oil companies or their political action committees.

Obama has accepted money from oil company executives and employees. But so has Clinton.

"I know that my opponent has run ads claiming that he does not take money from oil companies," Clinton said. "Well, no one does. It's illegal. It's been illegal for 100 years to take money from oil companies."

Indiana is next up on the presidential primary calendar, with a May 6 contest that is considered close. North Carolina, where Clinton started out Friday, also votes that day.

In his remarks, Obama said soaring gas prices were the latest manifestation of a Washington establishment that won't tackle the problems facing most consumers, and that he would bring needed change.

"In the end, we'll only ease the burden of gas prices on our families when Hoosiers and people all across America say 'enough,'" Obama said. "It's time to free ourselves from the tyranny of oil and stop funding both sides in the war on terror."

Campaigning in the heart of the Farm Belt, he paid the requisite nod to ethanol.

"I've been a strong supporter of ethanol," Obama said, noting that demand for the corn used to make ethanol is driving up food prices. "Corn-based ethanol is a transitional technology."

Obama's speech came after Sen. John McCain, the Republican Obama hopes to challenge in the fall, proposed suspending the federal gas tax for the summer driving season. Clinton supports the idea; Obama does not. Republican critics have noted Obama's vote for a temporary break on gas taxes when he was a member of the Illinois Legislature.

"Barack Obama can't deliver for working people if he supports higher gas taxes when the price of fuel is at a record high, and is likely to get higher by summertime," said McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds.

Republican Party official and McCain adviser Carly Fiorina disputed Obama's argument that the average motorist would benefit little from a suspension of the gas tax.

"I think it demonstrates that he doesn't understand what hardworking Americans are going through," she told reporters.

In the speech, Obama called for a windfall profits tax on oil companies, with the money used to help consumers pay utility bills. He also said middle-class tax breaks he's proposed would help families with energy costs.

"But the truth is, there is no easy answer to our energy crisis-and we need a president who is going to be straight with us about that," Obama said, a reference to his oft-stated contention that Clinton hasn't been upfront with voters.

Addressing reporters, Obama dismissed suggestions that he's struggled in recent primaries and should change his campaign message.

"That theme is not going to change because I believe it," he said.

Obama also shrugged off a television interview by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, scheduled for national broadcast Friday night. Wright has been criticized for his negative comments about America.

"I understand that he might not agree with me on my assessment of his comments," Obama said. "He is obviously free to express his opinion. I've expressed mine very clearly. I think what he said on several instances was objectionable and I understand why the American people took offense."


Associated Press writer Sara Kugler in Bloomington, Ind., contributed to this report.