NEW YORK — As Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman traded lines with Regis Philbin and delved into environmental policy, his Republican counterpart Dick Cheney on Thursday accused the Clinton administration of being "incompetent" when it comes to energy matters.
Cheney, speaking to supporters in the Chicago suburb of Palos Hills, also accused the administration of playing politics with the nation's oil reserves.
President Clinton last month announced he would release 30 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which was established in the 1970s to deal with interruptions in oil supplies.
Clinton--and his vice president, Al Gore--said that the release of the oil would make home heating oil cheaper and more available for the Northeast, which otherwise would have struggled with supplies and prices for the fuel that heats its homes and businesses.
Cheney, who until he was picked as George W. Bush's running mate served as the head of an oil business, criticized the administration--and by extension Gore--for what he said was a flawed strategy that will neither guarantee lower prices nor more abundance.
Last week, Cheney said, projected heating oil prices for November were higher than the levels before the release from the strategic reserve.
"Bottom line, I think the administration clearly made a decision here to put politics over national interest . . . to try to enhance Al Gore's election prospects in November," Cheney told supporters.
He also criticized the administration for the terms of the release, which did not specifically require firms receiving the crude to use it to produce home heating oil. As well, he said, much of the crude will simply replace more expensive foreign supplies, meaning that there is little appreciable addition to U.S. supplies.
Cheney said that, altogether, the release had been "incompetent in the execution."
The Republican was playing off Senate hearings Thursday, during which Sen. Frank H. Murkowski of Alaska said that the administration's "logic was flawed when announced and only got worse when executed."
Of the 30 million barrels set to be released under Clinton's order, more than one in five has yet to make its way to the market. Two bids for the oil, for 7 million barrels, went belly up after the bidders could not secure the required financial backing.
Another of the successful bidders turned around and sold 3 million barrels to an energy firm.
While Cheney was aggressively denouncing Gore in Illinois and at an earlier stop in Clarksburg, W.Va., Lieberman was engaging in a bit of happy talk on the airwaves.
Early Thursday, he chatted with Philbin--on his Kathie Lee-less show, not on his millionaire's gig--about the Yankees and the candidate's admittedly mediocre baseball career.
"Did I ever dream that this year I would get to be with you, Regis?" he asked, beaming, during his appearance. Then he reprised what has become his slogan of sorts since his selection as Gore's running mate: "Only in America, right?"
The Connecticut senator, still mourning his poor Little League play, managed to recount the entire line-up of the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers and quizzed Yankee fan Philbin on his team's trivia--in the same lights-and-whistles format as the host's evening show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"
Lieberman also on Thursday reiterated the Democratic ticket's embrace of the environment, telling a League of Conservation Voters meeting in New York that he and Gore are driven by their faith in the earth's resources.
He asked the group to fight hard in the election, which if it continues on its current trend will be the closest in decades. He said that Bush, if elected, would turn back 30 years of environmental protections.
"I don't want anyone who supports us to wake up on Nov. 8 and spend the next four years wondering what more we could have done," Lieberman said.
Martelle reported from the Cheney campaign and Gold from the Lieberman campaign. The story was written by Times political writer Cathleen Decker.