Yesterday, Hillary Clinton threw down the gauntlet on the issue of a holiday for the gas tax, asking members of Congress, "Are they with us or against us"?
Apparently members of Congress -- and perhaps more importantly for the race for the Democratic nomination, Democratic members in their roles as superdelegates -- are not taking this ultimatum well, joining with the consensus of energy experts and economists opposing the Clinton-McCain plan. According to The Hill's Jared Allen and Jackie Kucinich, the House leadership, most members of which have not endorsed in the presidential race, are calling the plan "DOA", or dead on arrival. Specifically, both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have spoken on the record as to their opposition to such a move.
But it is not only the Democrats' congressional leadership that is staying away from endorsing the Clinton-McCain plan. Take, for instance, unpledged superdelegate Mark Udall, the congressman from Colorado who is the Democrats' presumptive Senate nominee in the state and who also has a background in energy and environmental policy. A release from Udall's campaign reads as follows:
Yesterday in Indiana, Hillary Clinton challenged every member of Congress to go on the record with a position regarding her proposal to temporarily suspend the federal gasoline tax, and state whether they were with her or against her. Senator McCain has offered the same proposal, despite experts from all sides declaring that this plan will not actually lower costs for drivers.
Today, Congressman and Senate candidate Mark Udall responded to the challenge:
"There is no issue I have spent more time on in my public service career than working for real, responsible change in our energy policy - the kind that breaks our addiction to foreign oil and puts us on a path to greater national security, a stronger economy, and lower energy costs for our families. There is certainly no question that families are hurting with the soaring cost of energy and need relief.
"The so-called 'temporary gas tax holiday' that Senators Clinton and McCain propose won't deliver this needed relief. This will not create the economic relief they say it will, because prices will continue to rise until we address the real source of this problem. We do need to provide immediate relief for families hard-hit by spiraling gas prices, and we can do that by demanding the President stop adding to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This will ease the production crunch that is causing these skyrocketing gas prices.
"Senator Clinton claimed yesterday that I either stand with her on this proposal or stand with the oil companies. To that I say: I stand with the families of Colorado, who aren't looking for bumper sticker fixes that don't fix anything, but for meaningful change that brings real relief and a new direction for our energy policy. We can't afford more Washington-style pandering while families keep getting squeezed.
"It is exactly the kind of short-sighted Washington game that keeps us from getting real results to our energy problem. Experts across the ideological spectrum agree that it will increase the deficit, drain money away from Colorado roads and bridges, and hurt the environment, all without actually making prices lower for drivers."
Looking at a study from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (.pdf), a three month suspension of the federal gasoline tax would cost roughly $12 billion in revenue for infrastructure but would also cause the loss of over 300,000 jobs. This would include $96 million and 3,351 jobs for Colorado. For reference, it would also cost Indiana $183,722,596 in transportation money, as well as 6,390 highway-related jobs, and cost North Carolina $203,319,748 in federal highway funds and 7,071 jobs. All of this for a plan that would likely do more to pad the profits of big oil companies than it would to lower the actual price at the pump, while at the same time potentially increasing gasoline usage, thus detrimentally affecting the environment.
With numbers like these, perhaps it shouldn't be such a surprise that Democrats on Capitol Hill -- both in their roles as members of Congress and as superdelegates -- aren't biting at Clinton's challenge, and that, what's more, Clinton herself is reportedly toning down the language of this ultimatum.
Update [2008-5-2 17:42:30 by Jonathan Singer]: Some say that I should mention that there is a difference between Clinton and McCain on this issue. I think it's a fairly meaningless one. McCain says that he would pay for the gas holiday through deficit spending. Clinton says that she would pay for the gas holiday through increased taxes on oil companies -- something that would not have any chance of passing through the Congress, and even if it did would not pass with a veto-proof margin to override President Bush's opposition to such a move. Given this set of circumstances, Clinton either has to pay for this policy through deficit spending (like McCain), through cutting off funding to the highway trust (which has terrible ramifications, as mentioned above), or simply not having the holiday. So while there may be some daylight between Clinton and McCain on this issue, it's really small, and not so much that it would be wrong to call this the Clinton-McCain plan (particularly when both of them are using similar talking points to hit Obama on the issue).