The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


Barack Obama

Gibbs: LaHood Comments on Gas Tax Not Administration Policy

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. (Ron Edmonds/Associated Press)

By Michael D. Shear
If you want to know what a presidential slap across the face feels like, just ask Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood had told an Associated Press reporter that the transportation department was
thinking of changing the way that gas taxes are calculated from a per-gallon measure to a per-miles-driven measure.

Is that the policy of the White House, a reporter asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs?

"I can weigh in on it and say that it is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration," Gibbs said, an unusually sharp answer.

The reporter continued, prompting an exchange that made clear that LaHood has received new marching orders from the White House.

Here's the exchange:

QUESTION: So was Secretary LaHood speaking out of turn here? Was he...

GIBBS: I would direct you to Secretary LaHood on that.

QUESTION: Well, we actually interviewed him. So that...

GIBBS: Well, call him back.

Posted at 4:04 PM ET on Feb 20, 2009  | Category:  Barack Obama
Share This: Technorati talk bubble Technorati | Tag in | Digg This
Previous: Gibbs Takes on Santelli | Next: Misspeaking, Biden Directs Mayors to Private Web Company

Add 44 to Your Site
Be the first to know when there's a new installment of The Trail. This widget is easy to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry on The Trail.
Get This Widget >>


Please email us to report offensive comments.


You are mistaken. Allowances mean dependents plus other things that can lower your tax liability for the year -- there's not even any penalty / interest for W-4 filers if they pay 90% of the anticipated tax right before January 1. 2010 -- people take more "allowances" all the time, for instance, home mortgage payments, qualifying for head of household filing status, child tax credits, day care credits, etc.

Posted by: JakeD | February 23, 2009 1:31 PM

Come Join the Party!

Posted by: tplamm | February 21, 2009 5:25 PM

One more point. I'm guessing Jake is a salary man ( or was before taking up golf), so doesn't know about quarterly withholding. Self-earners are required to estimate and withhold taxes on a quarterly basis. Even if you pay all your taxes by Jan. 15, you can still get hit with penalties for under withholding the April, June, and September payments. I expect the same applies to inadequate withholding.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 21, 2009 11:04 AM

With reference to Jake's tea party, I suggest that you read your W4 before signing:

"Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this certificate and to the best of my knowledge and belief, it is true, correct, and complete."

Perjury is still perjury, even if it's only 8 more allowances than permitted.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 21, 2009 10:35 AM


Yes, I understand payroll taxes (there's no need to claim 99 allowances -- 9 is more than enough to knock down taxes -- and I know that more than 10 used to trigger IRS inquiry --the last thing you need is a "lock down" letter). As for the "penalty" in April of 2010, that would be worth it to send a message now. Or, you can simply send in one check right before January 1st and avoid the penalty. Next canard?

Posted by: JakeD | February 21, 2009 9:50 AM

The only weakness that Mr. Gibbs' comments reveal is President Obama's misguided hope that widespread bipartisanship is actually possible. Secretary LaHood needs to revamp his Repub. anti-little-guy philosophy to be in line with the Pro-Human trend that the Obama Administration is moving forward while reinstating our Constitutional rights.

Posted by: bgarciabaca | February 21, 2009 9:48 AM

I drive a F350 truck and am real good at rolling back odometers. Seems like a good deal to me. Oh, wait, they are going to put a GPS tracking device on my truck?--whoa!

Of course, that would make it easier to send me speeding tickets too.

Paying by the mile is a dumb idea, regardless of one's party affiliation. I'm glad to hear that it's DOA.

Posted by: ajmorgan | February 20, 2009 11:03 PM

Looks like Obama is still in campaign mode...same type of problem McClellan astutely pointed out about President Bush.

That's change we can believe in!

Posted by: conservativemaverick | February 20, 2009 9:36 PM

This would be a much more just and fair way of raising money for roads. Why should a car that gets 30 miles to the gallon pay less for the use of the highway than say a car that gets 20 mpg? People don't realize the drag to our economy the gas tax is. Tolls are really an older way of having a use tax. That is the way Eisenhower really wanted to support the interstates. This would lead to an equalization of being able to produce some things locally that now can't compete with subsidized distant transportation.

Posted by: gary300CandA | February 20, 2009 9:25 PM

GAS TAX= More expensive gas= Incentive to drive less= Drop in tax revenue= Less money to fix infrastructure but also less emissions and less foreign oil consumption= Incentive to drive more efficient vehicles.

MILEAGE TAX= Incentive to drive less= Drop in tax revenue= Less money to fix infrastructure but also= NO STIMULUS FOR more energy efficient vehicles= VIVA LA HUMMER nation. Who cares, I can now drive the kids to school in the biggest meanest monstrous American made SUV since gas will not be taxed. Furthermore, the most polluting and less efficient way of transportation, which is stop and go traffic for small distances, is what this brilliant idea stimulates. Not to forget about our farmers and the American people who live in rural areas, they are the ones who will be affected the most.

No , I don't think this is a good idea.

Posted by: fiebrudo | February 20, 2009 8:40 PM

Hey JakeD: go ahead and put 99 exemptions on your W-4 if you want to. Have fun on April 15, 2010, when you'll find that you owe several thousand in taxes. Oh, and you might even get socked with an UNDERpayment penalty (yes, such a penalty exists). Do you even understand how payroll taxes work?

Posted by: pk_1 | February 20, 2009 7:56 PM

Gibbs (and Obama?) needs to get some policy advice, fast.

Moving from taxpayer-subsidized roads to user-pay driving has three big benefits:

1) Our roads and bridges have the long-term funding to make them safe again. (The gas tax only covers ~50% of the costs of roads, and local and state taxpayers only partly make up the shortfall, so roads become less and less safe over time. Check

2) Traffic jams will drop, saving US businesses around $12-25B, and saving around 1,000 minutes per year from every driver's commute. (Check figures on cost of congestion and compare to 'congestion pricing' on

3) Our nation's total CO2 emissions will go down by 3-5% - check

So Gibbs is effectively saying 'this administration stands for the status quo - maintain greenhouse gas emissions, traffic jams and unsafe roads'.

I'm really not sure that's the message he wants to give ... and I wish some smart reporter would ask him this one.

I also hope he sits down and listens to his Secretary of Transport and gets the facts, rather than having a gut personal reaction on what would be the best sound bite.

Posted by: khskymeter | February 20, 2009 7:30 PM

We all hate to pay taxes and resent any new government ideas like being clocked on our auto mileage. But we do not mind our tax dollars being spent on those that cannot help themselves. Over eight million Americans are blind, lame, or feeble. They are dependent on government support to survive. If that support was taken away they would have to depend on private charities or on their neighbors. But that would be an impossible burden. Good hearted neighbors cannot be depended upon to pick up an annual 30 billion dollar tab. It would be cruel to throw disabled and dependent Americans to the wolves. Even if there are crazies that think it would be the perfect solution. Taxpayers must foot the bill until it rains gold. We are our brother’s keeper and must accept it.

Posted by: melvin_polatnick | February 20, 2009 5:38 PM

Now, are we trying to make roads last longer or reduce fuel consumption? Taxing miles does the former, taxing fuel the latter. I'd personally like to see the monster SUVs and huge pickup trucks parked.

The issue seems to be failure to use the existing gas taxes for road repair, and the fact that those taxes have been very low, for many years. Let's raise fuel taxes by, say, a dollar a gallon, then apply those funds to road repair.

Posted by: Thinker1 | February 20, 2009 5:29 PM

A VMT Tax is nothing new within the professional transportation policy, planning and engineering community. The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission has been working on different funding mechanisms for infrastructure of more than two years and this is one of the alternatives. It is no surprise.

All the infrastructure surveys show how bad it is bridges rate rate a D grade, highways a D grade, stormwater a D grade, traffic signal rate a D grade. The nation's backlog of projects is somewhere north of a trillion dollars and to fix it costs real money -- not fake we don't want to pay for it money --- real money that has to come from somewhere.

It's a smart investment for the long term future of our country.

Posted by: shepDC | February 20, 2009 5:04 PM

Yet another example of ultra-cautious, eyes-on-2012 Obamanauts; they can't even entertain "thinking of changing the way that gas taxes are calculated from a per-gallon measure to a per-miles-driven measure" by the Transportation department.

When you cam miraculously create trillions of dollars out of thin air for all sorts of legitimate and illegitimate, real and imagined, necessary and unnecessary, productive and wasteful endeavaors, where is the need to consider alternate means of raising revenue? I guess that's the "old democtrat thinking".

Meanwhile, several states are exploring the very same idea. Such liberal states as Massachhusetts, Idaho, North Carolina, ...

I guess if they show the way, Obambi will follow.

Posted by: pKrishna43 | February 20, 2009 5:03 PM

Forget the gasoline tax. To everyone who gets a paycheck, and wants to join the "Chicago Tea Party": print out a W-4 form and max out your allowances to 9 -- turn it in to your employer TODAY -- that will send a HUGE message to Obama and the Dems.

Posted by: JakeD | February 20, 2009 4:51 PM

Good grief, Could this administration BE more disfunctional????

Posted by: 2xy4k9 | February 20, 2009 4:44 PM

I guess it's important to understand the boundaries.

Within the range of policy choices known not to be unpopular, the Obama administration is at liberty to make different choices than the Bush administration did. No Obama administration official, though, can ever step outside the boundaries and hint at interest in a policy choice that might be unpopular. In that respect, the Obama administration continues on the course set by the Obama campaign.

Sure, America has problems and faces major economic crises, but Cabinet secretaries now know they can't just go nuts.

Posted by: jbritt3 | February 20, 2009 4:32 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company