August 09, 2007

Bush on Federal Gas Tax Hike: Not So Fast

One week after a deadly Interstate bridge collapse in Minnesota, members of Congress are talking seriously about increasing the federal gasoline tax to help pay for infrastructure improvements. But President Bush is having none of it-- not yet, anyway. In a White House press conference today, Bush didn't flat-out reject the notion of a gas tax increase, but clearly has no sympathy for the idea.

Here's what he was asked in today's press conference:
Mr. President, former Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Republican Don Young, says there are about 500 bridges around the country like the one that collapsed in Minneapolis last week. And Young and other Transportation Committee members are recommending an increase in federal gasoline taxes to pay for repairs. Would you be willing to go along with an increase in gasoline taxes of five cents a gallon or more?
And here's his response:
You know, it's an interesting question about how Congress spends and prioritizes highway money. My suggestion would be that they revisit the process by which they spend gasoline money in the first place.
As you probably know, the Public Works Committee is the largest committee -- one of the largest committees in the House of Representatives. From my perspective, the way it seems to have worked is that each member on that committee gets to set his or her own priority first, and then whatever is left over is spent through a funding formula. That's not the right way to prioritize the people's money. So before we raise taxes which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities. And if bridges are a priority, let's make sure we set that priority first and foremost before we raise taxes.
Given the President's track record of insisting that tax cuts can solve every problem under the sun, I suppose congratulations are in order: he didn't actually say the two-letter word containing the letters "n" and "o". But that's almost certainly because he was (or his advisor were) wise enough to recognize that in the wake of major infrastructure failures, continuing to explicitly insist on "no new taxes" is akin to insisting the earth is flat. At a time when important chunks of our highway system are literally falling to pieces before our eyes, insisting that we can pay for needed improvements by eliminating the old "fraud waste and abuse" is pretty hard to stomach.


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