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Posted at 6:14 AM ET, 01/31/2011

Will President Obama raise the gas tax?

By Stephen Stromberg

How can you tell if a politician has a serious plan for eliminating the rampant irrationality of the federal budget? See whether he proposes policies that would have seriously good effects -- but make for seriously bad politics. The hardest -- and the most necessary -- is slowing the fiscally deadly inflation of health-care costs. But another great example -- a favorite that Charles Krauthammer and I share -- is raising the federal gas tax.

Okay, I know, I just lost about 90 percent of my readers. And, perhaps, President Obama. On "Face the Nation" Sunday, his new chief of staff, Richard Daley, rejected raising the gas tax, arguing that now isn't the time to increase taxes.

But then Daley said this: "We want to sit down with the leadership of Congress as we work through the deficit ... and talk through the possibilities."

The White House has been down on raising the gas tax before. But on Sunday Daley apparently didn't rule out raising the gas tax in future years, perhaps as a way to fund investments in building and maintaining the country's road, rail and energy infrastructure -- not necessarily fulfilling Obama's high-speed rail dreams, but there are plenty of far more basic things that need attention. Things costing $2.2 trillion over five years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers -- and that's just for the maintenance of what we've got.

But, beyond raising money, the gas tax is most appealing for its other benefits. It's one of the most effective energy policies out there for achieving many goals Americans claim to have -- reducing dependence on foreign oil, cutting air pollution, undercutting unfriendly foreign petro-dictators. A Harvard study last year concluded that, of a broad range of federal policies, raising the gas tax is the only one that would significantly reduce oil imports or the number of vehicle miles Americans travel. As in the summer of 2008, Americans would start thinking more rationally about their energy use -- demanding more fuel-efficient cars and avoiding unnecessary trips. And, of course, in the absence of these sorts of changes in behavior, American overconsumption would continue to benefit Venezuela, Russia and Saudi Arabia instead of the federal Treasury.

Already have a fuel-efficient car? Don't drive excessively? You don't have much to lose -- and a lot to gain. Drive a gas-guzzler? Maybe it's time the rest of us stopped subsidizing the gas for your ride by absorbing the costs of compromised national security and dirtier air.

In casual conversation, politicians and political aides across Washington admit that raising the gas tax is eminently rational. The Bowles-Simpson deficit commission just recommended a higher gas tax. (Though the increase was tiny.) Rationality may yet trump politics at the White House, too.

If that happens, Republicans will have a huge political incentive to attack the president on the gas tax, a fact to which Daley alluded Sunday. One has to hope that their expressed concern for the deficit eventually snaps them into reality, too.

By Stephen Stromberg  | January 31, 2011; 6:14 AM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Comments

Will President Obama raise the gas tax?


No.

Posted by: kparc1212 | January 31, 2011 7:18 AM | Report abuse

As a Conservative this is the one tax I could support. I would feel better about it if Obama didn't have such a flaccid energy policy. We need to develop our own plentiful oil sources, in FL, AK or along the East Coast. We are the only country that refuses to develop their own oil and gas resources because of envirnomental policy. This is economic suicide, pure and simple.

Posted by: jkk1943 | January 31, 2011 8:11 AM | Report abuse

"As a Conservative this is the one tax I could support."

But of course. Gas taxes are hugely regressive, and the people hit hardest by them are small contractors who drive all over the place to do their jobs and can't afford to run out and buy hybrid pickups -- especially now, with the richies' War on American Workers in full swing and bearing fruit.

The richies can buy Teslas and Leafs and have no problem paying some extra gas tax anyway.

Gotta love the American rich and their "conservative" dupes: they are doing more harm to our country than Al Queda and still have the gall to call themselves patriots.

Posted by: roblimo | January 31, 2011 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Obama doesn't raise or lower Taxes; All that Crap comes from Congress in Legislation.
Haven't you learned that by now?

Ask Boehner that question! Maybe he will shed a few tears for you.

Posted by: ddoiron1 | January 31, 2011 9:10 AM | Report abuse

@Roblimo -
Many of the poor take mass transit, which is largely funded by gas taxes. Many of the rest drive smaller cars, and carpool which means they are affected less by it.
I am not sure I'd call this a "regressive" tax.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | January 31, 2011 9:17 AM | Report abuse

We could engineer our way out of oil dependence, and out of 700 billion a year in deficits due to oil, by switching to electric cars. Part of that is making electric cars a lot less expensive and oil a lot more expensive, hence the gas tax. I would like to see a higher gas tax. If it were up to me I'd ramp up, over five years, a 'floor' of $5 a gallon gasoline. No matter what the underlying oil price, the tax would bring the final price to five dollars per gallon. This would be stable - everyone would always know what the price would be. And it would encourage large numbers of commuters to switch to electrics, which cost about two dollars to charge overnight and give you 50 or 60 miles of driving, which works for 95% of US drivers. And we stop losing 700 billion a year out of America, much of it to regimes that bear us little affection.

Posted by: getjiggly2 | January 31, 2011 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Sure, why not? I mean the poor working people who have to drive to work (out in the West we don't have taxis and mass transit out to the drilling site, or the construction site like those that live in NY City, or Washington DC, or any of the other urban areas. Sure raise the tax and increse the average worker's cost just to get to work...what a stupid idea. But then what do you expect from those living in the DC where reality has never really visited. Stupid.

Posted by: staterighter | January 31, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse

I'm a conservative and I DON'T support a gas tax. Why? Because it is nothing more than forced societal change primarily on the middle class. This writer makes that perfectly clear (perhaps the rest of us should stop absorbing...etc - the same argument they give us to take over our health insurance).

Those in metropolitan areas with subways and other forms of public transportation will not feel this tax - no it is the folks who live out in the country - who grow their own food - who will feel this tax. It is the bedroom communities that have a 40 minute commute to their place of employment. It is the mother who has to drop her children off at three different schools who will feel this tax. It is the parent who opts for a charter school that doesn't provide transportation at all or where it is limited to just those who are "zoned" for that particular school and where car pooling is also not an option.

Where infrastructure needs to be updated, put a temporary toll booth there so that those who use it pay for it. That's how it used to be done in a lot of cases. Americans voted those toll booths out of being and the politicians just raised every person's taxes as a result.

They couldn't get cap and trade passed; their tactic of allowing the EPA to enforce regulations is under intense scrutiny; they don't yet have affordable and reliable hybrid cars so they now are all for that gas tax. It is nothing more than another avenue to force societal change.

Their goal is to raise the gas tax in order to force us to buying different cars - despite the fact that millions of jobs have been lost over the past two years, millions of credit scores have been destroyed over that same period - how many folks can get the same good loan for a car that they could have two years ago? Not too many of us.

They tell us that our personal debt is part of the problem with this economy - yet here they are wanting to force us into paying exorbitant gas prices, staying home, or buy a new hybrid vehicle.

At the heart of the issue is who is to be hardest by a gas tax - its not the wealthy - its not the 100,000 per year crowd. It is the folks who live in areas without public transportation systems. It is the folks hardest hit by this recession.

As usual.

Posted by: LMW6 | January 31, 2011 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Stromberg asked: "Will President Obama raise the gas tax?"
-------------------------------------
Umm, Obama has no ability to raise it. Therefore, a stupid question.

Posted by: illogicbuster | January 31, 2011 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I think I've heard this refrain before:
Let's analyze how federal spending might wisely be trimmed, but we must increase taxes NOW!

OK Stromberg, I'll sign on to a gas tax - right after Health Care Reformm is repealed, and government spending is returned to 2006 levels for at least 4 years.

Posted by: pilsener | January 31, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I think I've heard this refrain before:
Let's analyze how federal spending might wisely be trimmed, but we must increase taxes NOW!

OK Stromberg, I'll sign on to a gas tax - right after Health Care Reformm is repealed, and government spending is returned to 2006 levels for at least 4 years.

Posted by: pilsener | January 31, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I think I've heard this refrain before:
Let's analyze how federal spending might wisely be trimmed, but we must increase taxes NOW!

OK Stromberg, I'll sign on to a gas tax - right after Health Care Reformm is repealed, and government spending is returned to 2006 levels for at least 4 years.

Posted by: pilsener | January 31, 2011 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Do you eat, use, or buy anything that is transported? Suffer with everyone else.

Obama has already stated his goal of forcing energy efficiency and clean environment by making energy costs "skyrocket". That is still his objective. It is only by raising energy prices that will make "green" energy cost competative.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | January 31, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Gas taxes will have rise just pay for infrastructure upkeep. Ask Tim Pawlenty what happens when infrastructure is ignored, ie, I-35 bridge collapse.

At the same time the U.S. should launch a massive program to switch cars and trucks to compressed natural gas (CNG).

The U.S. is crisscrossed with natural gas lines all we need are stations to fill cars and trucks.

Building the infrastructure would create millions of jobs at the same time reducing the need for foreign oil.

Posted by: knjincvc | January 31, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Great. The greater cost of transportation will be passed on to the consumer for everything we buy. When there are millions of electric cars on the road the cost of electricity will sky rocket and there will be a transportation tax levied on it to make up for lost gas taxes. The excuse will be that we have to have the tax to repair our roads and build bridges. The middle class will sit at home and starve and freeze because they cant afford to drive, or buy groceries or heat their homes. Brilliant. These idiots are so out of touch with the reality of life it's pathetic.

Posted by: hossplay3 | January 31, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Of course, Stromberg doesn't mention what Harvard was talking about. Harvard says we'd need to increase the cost to 7 dollars a gallon by 2020 to achieve the decreases Stromberg mentions. Why would he fail to mention that point? Think about how that would impact not just your commute costs, but the costs of everything we buy - tractors and big rigs run on oil. Pretty regressive I'd say.

Posted by: Marin823 | January 31, 2011 1:08 PM | Report abuse

OOPS - The new gas tax already happened.

AP reporting on 1/21/2011 EPA APPROVES MORE ETHANOL IN FUEL FOR CARS......
"The fuel is popular in farm country because most ethanol comes from corn and other grains. It faces strong opposition, however, from the auto industry, environmentalists, cattle ranchers, food companies and others. Those groups say that using corn to make ethanol makes animal feed more expensive, raises prices at the grocery store and tears up the land. There have already been several lawsuits filed against the EPA - including one filed by automakers, boat manufacturers and outdoor power equipment manufacturers - since the agency decided to allow the higher blends for newer cars in October."

Posted by: pilsener | January 31, 2011 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I Would Be in Favor of a Higher Gasoline Tax IF
The Tax Money was ONLY DECADED to ROADS AND BRIDGES.
The Trouble Is: Politicians will spend It On --> Mostly --> Other Things..

Posted by: diduconsider | January 31, 2011 2:18 PM | Report abuse

"And the media sits and smiles like idiots."
The media are Democratic idiots what do you expect? What is important is that we trust Obama completely no many how many times he lies to us! We are only sheep when compared to All Mighty Obama.....only a fool questions God/Obama

Some wondered with all the current trouble in Egypt that may raise our gas prices why Dems were out parting. Hello the trouble in Egypt works great with their political agenda. Democrats want gas to cost at least 5 dollars a gallon. That will make it much easier for them to continue their "green" scam on the stupid in America and the world. The Democrats the party of evil were not partying and ignoring the problems in Egypt. It was just the opposite the were celebrating the trouble in Egypt!

Posted by: Loxinabox | January 31, 2011 3:00 PM | Report abuse

"And the media sits and smiles like idiots."
The media are Democratic idiots what do you expect? What is important is that we trust Obama completely no many how many times he lies to us! We are only sheep when compared to All Mighty Obama.....only a fool questions God/Obama

Some wondered with all the current trouble in Egypt that may raise our gas prices why Dems were out parting. Hello the trouble in Egypt works great with their political agenda. Democrats want gas to cost at least 5 dollars a gallon. That will make it much easier for them to continue their "green" scam on the stupid in America and the world. The Democrats the party of evil were not partying and ignoring the problems in Egypt. It was just the opposite the were celebrating the trouble in Egypt!

Posted by: Loxinabox | January 31, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Raising the federal gas tax may not be the cure-all, but it's the best short-term solution we have. We have to remember that it has stayed at a constant 18-cents a gallon since 1993, while vehicle miles traveled and construction costs have increased steadily. If there is any hope of breaking up our crippling traffic congestion, it has to involve upping the gas tax while simultaneously working toward a funding mechanism that promotes energy efficiency, like a vehicle miles traveled fee.

Patrick J. Natale, P.E., F.ASCE, CAE
Executive Director
American Society of Civil Engineers
Reston, Va.

Posted by: PatrickNatale | January 31, 2011 6:42 PM | Report abuse

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