Is Obama Opposed to the Bipartisan Gas Tax Proposal or Just Noncommittal?

Yesterday, The Huffington Post ran this headline: “White House Appears More Open To A Gas Tax Hike.” Minutes later, The Hill published this one: “White House opposes gas tax hike to fix transportation funding.” So, which is it?

Josh Earnest, on his first day as White House press secretary, said the president "would not support" a gas tax hike. But other officials have softpedaled the question. Photo: ##https://www.facebook.com/topic/White-House-Press-Secretary/108184749201716##Tamara Keith/Facebook##
Josh Earnest, on his first day as White House press secretary, said the president “would not support” a gas tax hike. But other officials have softpedaled the question. Photo: ##https://www.facebook.com/topic/White-House-Press-Secretary/108184749201716##Tamara Keith/Facebook##

The Hill’s headline was based on a statement by new White House press secretary Josh Earnest, who said about a gas tax increase: “That’s something that we’ve said a couple of times that we wouldn’t support.” But HuffPo got a different quote, which gave them a different perspective.

“The Administration has not proposed and has no plans to propose an increase in the gas tax,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich told HuffPo. “It is critical that we pass a bill that not only avoids a short-term funding crisis but provides certainty and lays the groundwork for sustained economic growth. So we appreciate that members on both sides of the aisle continue to recognize the need for a long-term infrastructure bill, and we look forward to continuing to [work] with Congress to get this done.”

HuffPo also reports that Ryan Daniels, a Department of Transportation spokesman, said that while the “Department has outlined a plan involving pro-growth business tax reform,” it was “open to ideas that Congress comes up with.”

Non-committal at best. But, it’s a far cry from Earnest’s claim that the administration “wouldn’t support” a gas tax increase. Earnest made that statement on his first day on the job — perhaps he overstated the case.

President Obama has come out in support of a convoluted plan to close corporate tax loopholes and repatriate some offshore profits as a means of paying for transportation — though such a scheme would upend the “user pays” ethic that has undergirded transportation policy for decades and would only pay for a four-year bill.

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Bob Corker (R-TN) have proposed raising the gas tax by 12 cents over two years and then indexing it to inflation — a common-sense and realistic idea, muddied somewhat by the fact that they propose to raise $164 billion in new revenues through the gas tax and surrender $190 billion in revenues by permanently extending some tax cuts.

Meanwhile, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has proposed an upstream oil fee of $6.75 per barrel. Despite the fact that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has endorsed a similar idea in the past, DeFazio’s plan doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, though one assumes that administration spokespeople would probably give it similar treatment to the other plans: that the president prefers a different option but is open to working with Congress.

Indeed, nothing the administration has said about the gas tax is any friendlier than the administration’s statement about the House Republicans’ idea of offsetting transportation expenditures by limiting Saturday mail delivery. “All along, we’ve said that if there are other ideas that emerge… we would be willing to consider those ideas,” U.S. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said about that plan a few weeks ago. “And I suppose that’s where we are.”

  • David Goldberg

    Thanks for following up on this. It seemed odd that the Admin would smack down a long-term revenue solution at this stage, having waved the red flag about what the demise of federal investment would mean for our economy. They might not propose the gas tax increase, might prefer to give some juice to corporate tax reform, but outright opposition at this stage doesn’t seem to fit.

  • Kevin Love

    Why on earth wouldn’t President Obama support a gas tax increase. It looks like a no-brainer to increase taxes on extremely harmful behavior. Over 1,000 people are poisoned and killed by car drivers in New York every year. Anything to deter that behavior saves lives.

    I am one of the many, many people who voted for President Obama and have been subsequently disappointed by his timid approach to implementing the change that was such a key part of his message.

    Of course his political opponents are not going to be constructive in the slightest bit. When in power, they did not cease to steamroller over all opposition to get what they wanted: eg, GW Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and two wars for everyone else.

    President Obama is too nice. Unfortunately, the way that politics is practiced today it is not a business for nice people.

  • lop

    A gas tax hike is better than raiding the post office for funds sure, but the hike they have in mind is pennies per year. That cost won’t affect driving much at all. Might be better to just let the fund go broke, so that road projects that will induce driving have to stop.

  • BBnet3000

    Can we peg it to inflation or the price of gas this time so it isnt constantly declining in real value?

  • lop

    So that there is always a stable funding source for highways? Is that even a good thing?

    Also rising fuel efficiency standards will eat into the revenue, so it has to rise faster than inflation to maintain a constant revenue per mile. Tolls would be better. Easier to hit trucks with high costs for the additional road damage they cause, and easier to target vehicles that don’t burn gas, or don’t burn as much gas, a growing share of the market.

  • BBnet3000

    Whatever happened to the idea of changing the law to be able to toll existing highways anyway? There was some talk a few months ago that the administration would be OK with that.

  • C Monroe

    That was why I was a supporter of Hillary in 2008. While many were enamored with the flowery speech of Obama, I was more impress with the Pitbull that is Hillary. She can be a Mean B****!

  • windrunner61

    I’ve got a novel idea-how about repealing the oil subsidies middle class Americans have to pay AND how about making the 1% RICH bank in this country so they can pay their taxes AND let’s repeal many of the loopholes for corporations that the middle class has been paying for since Reagan……..

  • windrunner61

    Because it is just another way to screw middle class Americans-repeal the oil subsides we pay, etc

  • windrunner61

    Why should WE have to pay more at the pump? Just another way to screw the middle class. REPEAL the oil subsidies – why are WE paying the oil industry anything???? They operate nearly tax free and makes billions in profit…….Hello, anybody home ???????

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