President Biden on Wednesday called for a three-month suspension of federal gas taxes in hopes of easing drivers’ pain at the pump, but the move was greeted with widespread skepticism.
The beleaguered president, who is under fire over raging inflation, also called for states to nix their own gas taxes and reiterated his attacks on Big Oil for profiteering amidst the war in Ukraine.
“I’m doing my part,” Biden said. “I want Congress, states and industry to do their part as well.”
Biden’s call would slash the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal tax on gas and the 24.4 cents-a-gallon federal tax on diesel fuel during the summer driving season.
Drivers would save roughly 3.6% at the pump if the savings were passed on to them, a relatively small break when prices are averaging a nominal near-record price of $5 a gallon nationwide.
“It will provide families some immediate relief,” Biden said. “Just a little bit of breathing room as we continue working to bring down prices for the long haul.”
The president noted that lawmakers backed sanctions against Russia and supported Ukraine despite the risks of inflation from resulting energy and food shortages.
“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. "
Biden’s push faces uphill odds in Congress, where both the House and Senate must vote to suspend the tax.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) mocked the gas tax holiday as an “ineffective stunt” in a Wednesday floor speech. “This ineffective administration’s big new idea is a silly proposal that senior members of their own party have already shot down well in advance,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was also less than enthusiastic, suggesting that oil companies might just pocket the cash and fail to pass the savings on to drivers.
“We will see where the consensus lies on a path forward for the president’s proposal in the House and the Senate,” Pelosi said.
Unlikely to pass a gas tax holiday through the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that Democrats will focus instead on their bill to crack down on oil companies “manipulating the market” for higher prices and profits. “We’re going to focus on that issue,” Schumer said.
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 done little to produce savings at the pump.
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.
The president has also called on energy companies to accept lower profit margins to increase oil production and refining capacity for gasoline.
This has increased tensions with oil producers after Biden deemed the companies to be making “more money than God.” That kicked off a chain of events in which the head of Chevron, Michael Wirth, sent a letter to the White House saying that the administration “has largely sought to criticize, and at times vilify, our industry.”
Asked about the letter, Biden said of Wirth: “He’s mildly sensitive. I didn’t know they’d get their feelings hurt that quickly.”
With News Wire Services