Unless Congress extends it, the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal gas tax will expire on Sept. 30. Allowing that to happen would be tremendously destructive. It would bankrupt the already stressed Highway Trust Fund, with devastating effects on the country’s highways, bridges, mass transit systems and the economy as a whole.
Reports suggest that some House Republicans may push to let the tax lapse or use the threat of expiration as leverage in the budget wars. This is a dangerous idea. If anything, the tax should rise to maintain a system that constantly needs upkeep — the backlog of bridges needing repair is estimated at $72 billion — creates jobs and encourages drivers to buy more fuel-efficient cars.
Excise taxes on motor fuels account for nearly nine-tenths of the $37 billion trust fund. The fund has lately required annual infusions from the Treasury Department to break even, and its obligations are growing. The gas tax has not increased since 1993, and its buying power, accounting for inflation, is now only 11 cents. Meanwhile, Americans are driving many more miles, placing greater stresses on the highway system.
When state taxes are added in, Americans pay, on average, about 43 cents per gallon in taxes — or about one-eighth the total price at the pump. That’s still a bargain compared with other industrial countries.
Before Congress starts running with another very bad idea, President Barack Obama should press to extend the tax now.
The New York Times (Aug. 17)
Extremisim in the GOP?
How caught in the clutches of extremism is the Republican Party?
At the GOP presidential debate in Iowa, all eight candidates said they are so dead set against tax increases that they would even reject a deficit-reduction deal that wildly and overwhelmingly favors spending cuts — $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases.
This would be the deal of a lifetime for a deficit hawk, an unimaginable opportunity to shrink the size of government, but the Republican candidates shot that hawk right out of the sky.
Even the debate’s Fox News moderator, Bret Baier, seemed to marvel at this one. He asked the candidates to raise their hands if they really meant it.
All eight raised their hands.
Let’s just hope that the six Republicans appointed to the congressional “supercommittee,” which must come up with a bipartisan deficit reduction plan by Thanksgiving, show even a smidgen more common sense. Or this country is going nowhere.
The shame of it is that we doubt the candidates, in their mindless moment of group-think, reflected the majority view of their own party. Most Republicans, according to polls, are open to tax increases as part of a plan to cut the deficit. And, we would bet, they know a fantastic deal when they see it.
Had one of the candidates responded by saying, “Heck, I hate taxes, but you bet I’d take that deal,” we suspect he or she would have become the instant front-runner for the GOP nomination.
As it is, the anti-tax extremists remain the tail that wags the dog.
Chicago Sun-Times (Aug. 17)