Dec 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats pushing Biden to suspend federal gas tax

Illustration of a gas pump with the hose forming a descending stock trend line.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Centrist Democrats are pushing President Biden to suspend the federal gas tax as a way of showing concern about inflation.

Why it matters: It's the strongest response yet from Democrats as Republicans make inflation a key part of their 2022 campaign messaging — but so far it's largely coming from candidates, not party leaders in Washington.

  • Historically, opponents of the federal gas tax have argued it's regressive and disproportionately impacts the poor and middle class, as well as people living in rural parts of the country.
  • Now, supply chain disruptions and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic economy have led to higher consumer prices across the country on things like food, gas and holiday gifts.

Driving the news: Just before the Thanksgiving recess, former Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) encouraged suspending the gas tax to help "hurting working families" in Iowa.

  • She's running for U.S. Senate next year against Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, and was one of the House Democratic candidates who won in 2018 and helped her party take back that chamber of Congress.
  • Rep. Charlie Crist of Florida, a former Republican now seeking his state's governorship as a Democrat. He called for a temporary end to the gas tax as a way to curb inflation's effects on Floridians.
  • Similarly, Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) — who lost re-election last cycle and now is seeking the governorship in South Carolina — asked the state's General Assembly to end the gas tax until the end of the fiscal year.
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) have introduced bills to address U.S. supply chain issues, although neither includes a gas-tax holiday.

What they're saying: "It’s a common-sense step to put more money in people’s pockets without jeopardizing infrastructure projects," Cunningham said in a tweet praising Crist for supporting the same measure in Florida.

The big picture: Democrats can’t ignore this thorny economic issue and have to figure out a way to talk about it without adding blame to their own party — and president.

  • Biden's approval rating has sunk to new lows as concerns about inflation rise: 42% in a recent NPR/Marist poll.
  • Press secretary Jen Psaki and others within the White House have continued to place the blame on the coronavirus pandemic.

The backdrop: The president repeatedly opposed increasing the gas tax to pay for his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package recently signed into law.

  • Top progressives like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), as well as leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, did the same.
  • Biden's also announced he won't increase taxes on anyone earning under $400,000 — including the gas tax.

The other side: Republican state lawmakers in New York have urged Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, to end the state's gas tax to temper gas prices.

  • In May, Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.) introduced a bill to end the federal gas tax for at least six months after the bill's passage. It hasn't gone anywhere.
  • The Republicans' Senate campaign arm ran a new ad against Democrats over the Thanksgiving holiday focusing on the increasing cost of gas and other goods.
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