In June, 2014, Brent oil stood at $115 a barrel. Today, it is below $50 and this precipitous drop in price has had innumerable effects on the economy. Global markets are trying to adjust to these lower oil prices, employment and housing in oil producing states are on the bubble, and consumers are enjoying gasoline prices that have dropped below $2 a gallon in many areas, just to name a few
But one of the unexpected effects of cheaper gas is GOP amnesia. Like Gilligan having his skull cracked by a coconut, low-tax Republicans have forgotten that the people who sent them to Congress have had enough of high taxes, excise taxes in particular. Instead, some of these supposed "read my lips," low/no tax champions are now cozying up to the idea of raising the federal gasoline tax.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) describes higher gas taxes as, “clearly one of the options,” for congressional budget writers, while Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and John Thune (R-SD) are striking similar chords. Noted conservative Charles Krauthammer, whom I deeply admire, has gone so far as to propose raising the gas tax by a dollar a gallon with an offsetting reduction in payroll taxes. With all due respect, it’s folly to ask the nearly 93 million working-age Americans who do not have jobs to subsidize Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes for those who do.
The calculus for all Americans is simple; after years of paying $4 or more for a gallon of gas, politicians reckon their constituents have been desensitized to seeing the gas pump run-up to $60 just to fill their cars so they’ll be happy to pay more in taxes, seeing as how a fill-up now only costs about $30. The falling price of gasoline has Congress channeling its inner pick-pocket.
The average consumer spent more than $2,400 on gasoline in 2013 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that cost hasn’t varied much since 2011. With prices at the pump falling in many areas by more than half since then, American families stand to save roughly $100 each month on gas. That buys a lot of groceries.
But instead of letting taxpayers enjoy a little bit of relief through lower gas prices after years of recession and a sluggish recovery, Republicans are lining up with Democrats to bilk taxpayers of more of their money. We’re already hearing the rationale for raising the gas tax. Our crumbling infrastructure - have you ever noticed how infrastructure is always “crumbling?” - needs more money and now that taxpayers can afford higher taxes, they should pay them. But this is not a plea to save our highway overpasess, it is naked opportunism.
The biggest problem is that once a tax is raised, it is rarely reduced. I will wager everything I own and hope to ever own that when gasoline moves back to $4 a gallon - and it will - the people winking and nodding at a higher gas tax today will not be talking about cutting it to give cash-strapped taxpayers a break from rising gas prices. That’s just not how Washington works.
Congress being filled with many clever people, some are talking about how higher gas taxes might be part of a larger tax overhaul, with offsetting tax relief to even-out things. This is simple legerdemain, a shell game designed to provide political cover to those who want higher taxes. If Congress wants more money for roads and bridges, it should find the money from some bloated line item in the federal budget rather than the household budgets of working families.
Conservatives and libertarians are fed up with the selective amnesia exhibited by their elected representatives. Congressional Republicans should stop running around like a bunch of collective Gilligans and start remembering the people who sent them to Washington - and why.