WASHINGTON — Gasoline prices will remain high for years to come and will be largely unaffected by the new White House plan to bring them down, Bush administration officials said Sunday.
Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said the United States faces an oil price "crisis" because surging demand from such countries as China and India has outstripped supply.
"The suppliers have lost control of the market," Bodman told NBC's "Meet the Press."
"Clearly, we're going to have a number of years -- two to three years -- before suppliers are in a position to meet ... demands," he said.
Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff, said that President Bush's new program to deal with the price hikes would have only a "relatively modest" effect on prices in the short term.
"This is a very large problem," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "It's built up over many years -- decades, in fact. It's not going to be solved in the short run by some silver bullet. There are a lot of policies that need to be put in place over the long run to wean ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil."
The officials' appearances on the Sunday talk shows followed a week in which surging gas prices alarmed Americans and frightened political incumbents facing midterm congressional elections in six months.
With polls showing gas prices as the No. 1 concern of a plurality of Americans, Bush last week brought out a energy plan that calls for reducing the flow of oil into the national strategic reserve, easing regulations on fuel ingredients and encouraging the production and purchase of hybrid vehicles.
But administration officials said the only real solution is a long-term effort to reduce dependence on foreign oil, which now represents about two-thirds of U.S. consumption.
"We need to deal with the long-term problems of technologies that may get us out of this trap," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on ABC's "This Week."
She said that countries' efforts to ensure oil and gas supplies were "distorting international politics," which meant that "the quicker we get about the business of reducing our reliance on oil, the better we're going to be."
Administration officials said that Bush was not hypocritical in calling for reductions in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, even though he attacked his Democratic opponent in the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore, for urging a similar reduction to help cut prices.
Asked whether Bush's move was aimed at the elections, Bodman said, "I wouldn't call it a political move. I would say it's an effort to ... make a contribution to the reduction in price."
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