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Cicilline's Gas Pump Politics

One of Congressman David Cicilline's central challenges - as policymaker and politician facing a tough re-election fight - is his relatively powerless position as a freshman in the minority party. He will not be able to go to voters, in the coming months, with a lengthy list of accomplishments.

But that hasn't stopped him from attaching himself to several hot-button issues in his first year-plus in office.

Last year, he proposed a ban on debit card fees after Bank of America announced plans - later dropped - for a monthly charge. Now, he is co-sponsoring a bill with Congressmen Maurice Hinchey, a New York Democrat, and Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, directing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to use its existing powers to take action against oil speculation.

It is not clear that those existing powers can allow for a real clampdown. And it's not clear how much oil speculation - buying up barrels, holding them to drive up prices, and then selling them - is affecting gas prices. Geopolitical instability in the Middle East seems the prime driver at the moment. But Democrats, Cicilline included, have latched onto an item in Forbes, drawing on a Goldman Sachs report, that suggests it could be adding 56 cents per gallon to the market price.

"Rhode Islanders are being really hit hard by the price increases at the pump," Cicilline told me in a brief chat yesterday. Several times he mentioned that Rhode Islanders are "hurting."

President Obama is also pushing for $52 million in new funding for CFTC and additional regulatory authority for the agency to aid in oil speculation crackdown. Speaker of the House John Boehner has already pooh-poohed the president's plan. And it seems highly unlikely that Congressional Republicans will sign onto Cicilline's bill and hand the embattled Democrat a ready-made campaign commercial.

But don't be surprised if Cicilline highlights the push - and, perhaps, GOP intransigence - anyway as part of a broader "fighting for you" message. 

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