On Wednesday, President Biden called on Congress to suspend federal gasoline and diesel taxes for three months — an election-year move meant to ease financial pressures that was greeted with doubts by many lawmakers.
The Democratic president also called on states to suspend their own gas taxes or provide similar relief, and he delivered public criticism of the energy industry for prioritizing profits over production. It would take action by lawmakers in Washington and in statehouses across the country to actually bring relief to consumers.
“It doesn’t reduce all the pain, but it will be a big help,” Biden said, using the bully pulpit when his administration believes it has run out of direct levers to address soaring gas prices. “I’m doing my part. I want Congress, states and industry to do their part as well.”
At issue is the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal tax on gas and the 24.4 cents-a-gallon federal tax on diesel fuel. If the gas savings were fully passed along to consumers, people would save about 3.6% at the pump when prices are averaging about $5 a gallon nationwide.
Administration officials said the $10 billion cost of the gas tax holiday would be paid for and the Highway Trust Fund kept whole, even though the gas taxes make up a substantial source of revenue for the fund. The officials did not specify any new revenue sources.
American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear called on leaders in Washington to get serious about lowering energy prices and reducing inflation, rather than considering a proposal to temporarily suspend the federal fuel tax.
“Here are three immediate things this administration and Congress can do that will actually make a difference,” Spear said in a statement. “Make America energy independent… stop kissing the ring of Saudi Arabia. Renew trade agreements with the European Union and Asian Pacific nations in order to export more American oil and natural gas. And, balance the budget… stop wasting hard-earned taxpayer dollars on senseless programs that drive up inflation and runaway deficits.
“Energy independence, trade and a balanced budget. Do that, and America wins.”
Biden’s push faces uphill odds in Congress, which must act in order to suspend the tax, and where many lawmakers, including some in his own party, have expressed reservations. Even many economists view the idea of a gas tax holiday with skepticism.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a noncommittal response to Biden’s proposal, saying she would look to see if there was support for it in Congress.
“We will see where the consensus lies on a path forward for the president’s proposal in the House and the Senate,” Pelosi said.
In his speech, Biden tied higher energy prices to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said, “Defending freedom, defending democracy was not going to go without cost for the American people and the rest of the free world.”
The president noted that lawmakers backed sanctions against Russia and aided Ukraine despite the risks of inflation from resulting energy and food shortages.
Democrats, Republicans, and independents in Congress chose to support Ukraine “knowing full well the cost,” he said.
“So for all those Republicans in Congress criticizing me today for high gas prices in America: Are you now saying you were wrong to support Ukraine?” Biden said. “Are you saying that we would rather have lower gas prices in America than [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s iron fist in Europe? I don’t believe that. ”
The president said “states are now in a strong position to be able to afford to take some of these actions,” thanks to federal support from the 2021 COVID-19 relief bill. But there is no guarantee that states will tap into their budgets to suspend their taxes on gas or to deliver rebates to consumers, as Biden is requesting.
Barack Obama, during the 2008 presidential campaign, called the idea of a gas tax holiday a “gimmick” that allowed politicians to “say that they did something.” He also warned that oil companies could offset the tax relief by increasing their prices.
The administration is saying that gas tax suspensions at the federal and state levels as well as energy companies pouring their profits into production and refining capacity could cut gas prices by $1 a gallon.
High gas prices pose a fundamental threat to Biden’s electoral and policy ambitions. They’ve caused confidence in the economy to slump to lows that bode poorly for defending Democratic control of the House and the Senate in November.
Biden’s past efforts to cut gas prices — including the release of oil from the U.S. strategic reserve and greater ethanol blending this summer — have not delivered savings at the pump, a risk that carries over to the idea of a gas tax holiday.
The president can do remarkably little to fix prices that are set by global markets, consumer demand and aftershocks from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the embargoes that followed. The underlying problem is a shortage of oil and refineries that produce gas, a challenge a tax holiday cannot necessarily fix.
Read the rest of the story at Transport Topics.