Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) have called for a summer moratorium on the federal gas tax. McCain has not specified how to make up the $11 billion; Clinton has proposed a tax on windfall profits from oil companies to recoup losses to the federal highway fund. Economic analysts of all stripes have responded with horror, pointing out that "the benefits will flow to oil companies, not consumers."
Even if a suspension of the gas tax led to lower prices, the rich would benefit the most, since "the more a family earns, the more they drive," notes Sam Davis of the Center for American Progress. Len Burman of the non partisan Urban Institute calls the proposal "a huge windfall for refiners." New York Times columnist Tom Friedman argues, "This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks." Newsweek's Jonathan Alter agrees, stating, "Suspending the federal gas tax is a crass ploy for votes."
The Atlantic Monthly's James Fallows calls cutting the gas tax "destructive nuttiness" and "embarrassing." Economist Gilbert Metcalf called it "very short-sighted," noting, "If we want people to invest in energy-saving cars, we need some assurance that the higher price paid for these cars is going to pay off through fuel savings."
WHAT'S TO BLAME FOR HIGH GAS PRICES: President Bush said Tuesday that he has no "magic wand" to affect gas prices. But as Steve Hargreaves of CNN Moneywrites, gas price is "all about government policy." Since the United States has some of the lowest gas taxes in the world, the price at the pump is dominated by the cost of oil. In congressional testimony one month ago, Exxon Mobil senior vice president Stephen Simon said his company believes the price of oil involves four components. The effects of supply and demand accounts for "somewhere around $50-55 a barrel," or about half the current price.
The second factor is the weaker dollar; since 2001, "the dollar has lost 45% of its value" against the euro. The third is "geopolitical risk"; since 2003, the United States has been committed to a three-trillion-dollar war in Iraq, the heart of the turbulent oil-producing world. And the final component is "speculation"; investors have "looked to commodities not only as a hedge against inflation but as a hedge against the tumbling greenback."
IMMEDIATE ACTION: When asked by Reuters about the gas tax proposal, conservative economist Greg Mankiw recommended, "If you want to provide households tax relief, a direct rebate...is more effective." Center for American Progress analysts Sam Davis and Daniel J. Weiss describe how a fast-acting "reliefbate" plan would work. Applied progressively, the "reliefbate" would provide reprieve to 80 percent of American households as well as all independent truckers, at a total cost of $23.2 billion, which "could easily be paid for by closing several oil tax loopholes and recovering lost royalties." The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin further recognizes that there are "two hugely significant factors" that Bush could take action on immediately: "the war in Iraq and the value of the dollar."
IN OTHER NEWS:
The Reverend Wright issue isn't as big a deal to voters as the pundits on the cable news shows want you to believe. In a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, John McCain's ties to Bush is what concerns most voters about the candidates at 43%. The next highest is Hillary where people are concerned about her changing positions on issues with 36%. The Reverend Wright issue is not even in the top three, it sits at number four in voters minds at 32%. So it's good to see that the majority of people don't buy what the media is selling on this Wright issue. That being said, it is however sad to see even 32% of voters willing to engage in guilt by association.
Meanwhile, a loyal Clinton supporter, former DNC Chairman and super delegate Joe Andrew from Indiana defected to the Obama camp. So despite this over-blown Wright distraction he is still picking up supers.
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