Biden again goes off-message in talking about raising the gasoline tax
By Al Kamen and Colby Itkowitz
August 7, 2014
Okay, so maybe it’s not a huge shocker when Vice President Biden goes off-script. We’ll never forget his honest answer about legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012 that caused an epic White House scramble to get President Obama on the same message.
So on Wednesday, when Biden — well known for his deep affinity for transportation issues, particularly his beloved Amtrak — criticized Congress over transportation spending, he again veered off the administration rails.
“Hell, Congress can’t even decide on a gas tax to keep the highway system going,” Biden said during remarks about the border crisis.
But wait! The Obama White House, since its earliest days, has been adamant about one thing: It would not seek to raise the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal tax on gasoline to pay for highway investments. Tax increases don’t make for good politics. The White House proposed this year instead using revenue from corporate tax reforms to pay for infrastructure investments.
As the Loop wrote last month, we have a sneaking suspicion that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx may not be as opposed as his bosses are. Note how former DOT secretary Ray LaHood changed his tune as soon as he was unshackled from the Cabinet. And it appears Biden would like to see Congress raise the tax, too. (The vice president’s office has not responded to our request for further clarity.)
The federal gasoline tax was last raised in 1993 during the Bill Clinton administration, and before that by President “Read my lips: No new taxes” George H.W. Bush in 1990, and by President Ronald Reagan, who also promised no tax increases, in 1982.
Business groups and many members of Congress want to raise the tax in the interim to bolster the Highway Trust Fund to buy time to debate other financing streams. But, underscoring the difficult politics of it, an AP-Gfk poll released this week found that only 12 percent of Americans support raising the tax, and 59 percent were opposed.
But will Biden’s “gaffe” send the White House into a tizzy as his gay marriage remarks did?
Unlikely. It’s an election year, after all. And new taxes don’t quite rouse the base.