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House Democrat: We Don’t Have the Votes for Gas Tax Increase

3:29 PM EDT on July 1, 2009

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), a member of the House transportation committee, took to some less-than-friendly airwaves yesterday to tout an innovative plan for funding the next federal transportation bill: imposing a small tax on Wall Street oil traders.

In an interview with Fox Business Channel's "Happy Hour" -- conducted from what appears to be a working bar (watch it in full here) -- Capuano parried one anchor's suggestion that the tax is an attempt to "tax the crap out of" financial firms that have become radioactive in the post-bailout age.

And in the process, Capuano put his finger on an unfortunate political reality.

The lawmaker said (emphasis mine):

I am nottrying to tax Wall Street any more than they are already taxed. I'msimply trying to find ways to get the money to fix the subways and thecommuter rails and the bridges, and there's a major tunnel being builtright into Wall Street right now as we speak.

That money has to come from somewhere. Now if it doesn't come fromthis, that's fine. I actually would prefer a gas tax. But if the votesaren't there, the votes aren't there. It is either that or do nothingor try to find alternatives. This is an alternative.

Capuano reiterated the point one more time in the interview, telling Fox he would be fine with "taxing the end user" of highways to pay for a new transportation bill but adding that "right now, there are not the votes in Congress for it."

This funding dilemma is more than just a pesky hurdle; it is the central problem facing transportation-minded members of Congress.

The president, whose popularity would be essential to help make the public case for a gas-tax increase, has flatly withheld his support. The House's bid to press on with transportation reform that lacks a reliable revenue source has been greated with disapproval in the Senate and scorn from one corner of the mainstream media.

Backers of the oil-traders tax, first floated last week by Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR), project that it would cover the gas-tax shortfall that must be filled in order to pass the $500 billion House transportation legislation. Until senators begin suggesting similarly substantive revenue raisers, the White House's plan for an 18-month extension of current law remains the most likely outcome this summer.

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