WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Presidential hopeful John Kerry and running mate John Edwards closed out the first week of their cross-country tour together in Missouri Friday with a call for energy independence as oil prices hit historic highs.
The plans offered Friday were outlined in the candidates' book released Monday, "Our Plan for America: Stronger at Home and Respected in the World," which posits that energy issues have gone beyond economic considerations to become an issue of homeland security.
"John Edwards and I have a plan to put America on the path to energy independence and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs at the same time," Sen. Kerry, D-Mass., said in prepared remarks.
"And I can tell you this: America will be safer and freer when the resources that fuel our economy are in our hands and when we develop new energy sources in our country."
The campaign's plan calls for selective intervention to develop new technologies, which Republicans say would pass increased costs onto consumers.
"The Bush administration contends that a strategy for energy independence is not viable because it relies too heavily on government intervention in energy markets," Kerry and Sen. Edwards, D-N.C., wrote in the book.
"Our current policies cost taxpayers billions of dollars today and create even greater costs for both government and business tomorrow. We need to invest more wisely and lead the country toward energy independence rather than give handouts to special interests that perpetuate our reliance on oil."
According to Kerry, the path to independence is to explore and develop new energy sources, improve energy efficiency, diversify existing sources and reduce prices. A major key to accomplishing these goals, he said, is to revamp U.S. diplomacy.
Kerry said he would fulfill Bush's campaign promise to "jawbone" oil-producing nations, especially Saudi Arabia, into providing greater access.
Meanwhile, current legislation for an overall energy policy has remained stalled in the Senate for several months, despite President Bush's call for its passage. Kerry Policy Director Sarah Bianchi told reporters Friday the legislation was stuck because the Bush administration had added "poison pills," including calls for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve and lowered requirements for the gasoline additive MTBE.
"The reason that legislation came down is not because of Democrats, it was because of broad bipartisan opposition to the legislation," she said.
Despite these wedge issues, Bianchi said, most of the current legislation had broad bipartisan support, which Kerry could use to quickly push through revised legislation.
Two key components of these policies, campaign officials said, would be a new start for the country with a new president and a new plan for diplomacy.
"One of the reasons why oil prices and all the derivatives, gasoline and others, are so high is the instability in the world and in America's relationship in the world community, and a fresh start -- literally Senator Kerry taking office -- I think could quickly begin to restore American relationships in the world community and quickly get the so-called instability ... fear premium, which is currently in oil prices," said Kerry economic adviser Roger Altman.
"I think you could see some improvement of energy prices quite quickly by virtue of a new president without all the baggage and a fresh start internationally," he added.
Once in office, the campaign says it would vastly alter Bush's attitude toward foreign oil producers.
"You're likely to see a very quick change in the approach towards Saudi Arabia -- none of the coddling that you've seen in this administration, none of the kid-gloves approach," said former National Security Council head Lee Wolosky.
"This administration, you have to keep in mind, as it was announced this week, received the most gifts of any country from the Saudi leadership. ... What you're going to see as the senator has said over and over again is an approach of naming-and-shaming and if necessary freezing certain individuals or financial institutions or even countries out of the U.S. financial system that do not respond appropriately to the imperatives of U.S. national security."
Republicans patently rejected campaign assertions that Kerry taking over the White House would settle jittery markets and help lower oil prices.
"I put that down into the absurd category. ... John Kerry doesn't exactly evoke stability," Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., told reporters in a conference call Friday.
Nickles and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said Kerry's plans would cost taxpayers money and ultimately were unrealistic to reach the goal of freeing the United States of dependence on foreign oil.
The campaigns offer two differing view of the solution: supply-side vs. demand-side economics. "Given that sixty-five percent of the world's oil reserves are in the Middle East, America will never be able to drill our way to independence," Kerry and Edwards wrote.
"But if we have the will and the imagination to declare our commitment to energy independence today, we can achieve it tomorrow."
Bush supporters, meanwhile, maintain that it will be impossible to reduce demand -- especially Kerry's call that the federal government cut back its energy usage by 20 percent -- and that the United States needs to find new sources of oil, such as ANWR.
"We are never going to be oil sufficient anymore. ... It may be noble to say we're going to be self-sufficient for oil needs, but it's just not realistic," Barton said.
"I would see his policies probably increasing our dependency on foreign sources (of oil), Middle Eastern sources as well, for as long as you can imagine," Nickles said.
Republicans also insisted Kerry's own record of refusing to vote on the current legislation that contains many of the provisions he himself is pushing shows inconsistency on the issue.
"There's two reasons why we don't have an energy plan right now, called John Kerry and John Edwards, who voted against an energy plan in the first place," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
Ultimately, however, Bush is calling for the same end goal as Kerry.
"We need an energy policy that is wise, that encourages conservation, that encourages renewable sources of energy, that encourages exploration in environmentally friendly ways," Bush told supporters at a picnic in New Hampshire Friday.
"To keep jobs here, we need to become less dependent on foreign sources of energy."
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