Senate Democratic leaders on Monday urged President George W. Bush to use his upcoming trip to the Middle East to convince Saudi Arabia to pump more oil and help lower record crude and gasoline prices.
"We urge you to use this opportunity to request that the Saudi government take steps to reduce the record high prices American drivers are paying for gasoline at the pump and urge them to take steps to bring those prices down as rapidly as possible," the lawmakers said in a letter to Bush.
The president leaves this week on his Mideast trip, which includes a stop in Saudi Arabia, the most influential member of Opec and the world's biggest oil producer with about 2 million barrels a day of unused oil production capacity.
The price of US crude hit a record $126.40 a barrel on Monday at the New York Mercantile Exchange. Higher crude prices generally are passed on to consumers at the gasoline pump.
Saudi Arabia and other Opec members have said the markets are well supplied with oil, and crude prices are high because of a weak US dollar and strong global demand for petroleum.
The lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said Saudi Arabia "wields enormous influence over the price of crude oil." They reminded Bush that when he first ran for president, he said his relationships in the oil industry would be effective in convincing Opec to increase oil output levels.
However, they said Opec has voted three times in the last year not to raise production, "meaning rising gas prices continue to sap a greater portion of Americans' paychecks."
"We hope that you will put this concern at the top of your agenda during your meetings in Saudi Arabia, and that you convince the Saudis to release some of their spare capacity to cool the markets and give some relief to America's drivers," the lawmakers said.
The White House said Bush will press the problems of high oil prices when he meets with the king of Saudi Arabia on his trip.
"Will he ask the Saudis to consider the drain on the world economy because of high gas prices? Yes, of course," said White House press secretary Dana Perino.
Perino noted that Canada and Mexico each are bigger suppliers of oil and petroleum products to the US market than Saudi Arabia.