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The Cycle Of Fear Over Rising Gas Prices

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Guy Raz is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The topic that dominated the political conversation this week was rising gas prices. The national average is approaching $4 a gallon. It's a chunk of change out of our pockets, maybe a harbinger of inflation. President Obama focused on gas prices in his weekly radio address today and from the road all week. But we couldn't help thinking we've heard this song before.

Unidentified Man #1: Gas prices.

Unidentified Man #2: Gas prices.

Unidentified Man #3: Gas prices.

Unidentified Woman #1: National average for a gallon of gas will likely hit $3.97.

Unidentified Woman #2: A dollar 17 per gallon for regular unleaded gas.

Unidentified Man #4: On gas prices.

Unidentified Man #5: There's no escaping the pain at the pump.

WERTHEIMER: Those clips are not from this week, as you can hear. Not even this year. Dick Polman, national political columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer says he's covered this story a few times.

Mr. DICK POLMAN (National Political Columnist, Philadelphia Inquirer): Whenever the mark is at the prices jump, we get visuals on cable news of the digital readouts at the pump, anecdotal interviews of people filling their cars and being angry.

Unidentified Woman #3: Well, I'm not going to be happy.

Unidentified Woman #4: First time, I was like, man, that's too high.

Unidentified Man #6: Does it drive you nuts?

Unidentified Man #7: Yeah.

Unidentified Woman #4: But you have to put gas in your car.

Mr. POLMAN: Then you got people in the opposing party saying something ought to be done about this.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Senate Minority Leader; Republican, Kentucky): Americans looking at the price of gas at the pump these days are justifiably upset.

Unidentified Man #8: We're about to get into the high driving season.

Mr. POLMAN: Then whoever's in the White House turns around and says we're going to try to get to the bottom of this.

Sen. McCONNELL: Some in the administration are actively working to prevent us from increasing our own oil production here at home.

President BILL CLINTON: To immediately begin the orderly sale of about 12 million barrels...

Mr. POLMAN: So everybody sort of covers themselves politically.

Pres. CLINTON: ...of our nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to moderate the price of fuel.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. POLMAN: In a few months, prices stabilize or maybe they dip a little bit and everybody just goes back about their daily business as if it never happened. And then the next time, it happens as if it's for the first time.

Unidentified Woman #5: Pain at the pump is getting ready to make a comeback.

Unidentified Woman #6: I think these prices are just absolutely ridiculous.

Unidentified Man #9: We jumped to a two-year high.

Unidentified Man #10: Sticker shock is back at your local gas station.

Unidentified Woman #7: Prices at the pump now... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.