Jun 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP's gas tax flip-flop

Illustration of two gas pump nozzles facing and crossing each other.
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Several Republicans who've bashed President Biden's calls for a three-month federal gas tax suspension have previously supported a state or federal gas tax holiday.

Why it matters: It suggests that historically, support for suspending or reducing the gas tax as a means of providing relief for American consumers has not fallen neatly along partisan lines.

The big picture: Some of the most prominent Republicans — who have called Biden's plan to suspend the federal gas tax "stupid," "treacherous," and "a complete gimmick" — have proposed, supported and even signed into law their own gas tax relief legislation.

Driving the news: Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who on Thursday called measures proposed by the administration "gimmicky" and "short term," introduced legislation in 2006 that would lift the very same federal gas tax.

  • In March, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) signed a letter calling on California Governor Gavin Newsom to suspend the gas tax for six months.

In 2018, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a bill that would cut the federal fuel tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon between 2021 and 2025.

  • McCarthy donated $300,000 to a California proposition aimed at repealing the California gas tax, Roll Call reported. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) donated $25,000.
  • While Rubio accused the Biden administration of "rolling out more gimmicks," he proposed a plan when he ran for president in 2015 to reduce the federal gas tax by 80%.

In 2008, Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) co-sponsored the late Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) legislation that would suspend the gas and diesel taxes from May to September 2008.

What they're saying: "The proposal Sen. Thune supported in 2006 required full reimbursement to the Highway Trust Fund, which helps maintain our nation’s roads and bridges," Thune's communications director Ryan Wrasse told Axios. "The Democrats’ proposal would leave a massive hole in it."

  • "In 2006, the energy technology landscape was completely different than it is today, and it wasn’t being stifled by the administration. And, most notably, Republicans weren’t abandoning American energy producers or going hat in hand to other countries begging for foreign oil," Wrasse added.
  • "Sen. Thune called it a gimmick because it is a gimmick — and based on their public comments over the last 24 hours, Democrats know it too."

Cruz told Axios in a statement, "The reason why gas prices are so high is because of Biden’s continued war on American energy. While I’ll vote to cut or eliminate just about any tax, a gas tax holiday is a drop in the bucket when it comes to skyrocketing prices due to Biden."

White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates urged Republicans "to put families first, not subject them to more hardship for the sake of political games," per a statement to Axios.

  • "It’s unfortunate that Republicans, including many who’ve supported this exact policy before, claim on TV that they’ve never met a tax cut they didn’t like are suddenly opposed to a significant tax benefit for working people that will spare them financial pain at the pump."

The intrigue: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has yet to publicly comment on Biden's gas tax holiday plans, signed a $1.2 billion tax relief bill in May that includes a one-month fuel tax holiday.

The other side: In 2008, former President Obama dismissed the idea as a political "gimmick" designed purely to win votes.

  • "The easiest thing in the world for a politician to do is to tell you exactly what you want to hear," Obama said in April 2008.
  • At the time, it was championed by McCain and Hillary Clinton.
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