Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gas Tax Pander Bears

Hillary Clinton is following John McCain's lead again, the Times reports:
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.
Politically, it seems like an odd moment for Obama to eschew a cheap pander (somewhere, Paul Tsongas is smiling), but on the substance he is right, as Dean Baker explains:
Actually, almost all economists would agree that the tax cut proposed by Senators Clinton and McCain would save consumers nothing. With the supply of gas largely fixed by the capacity of the oil industry (they claim to be running their refineries at full capacity), the price will not change in response to the elimination of the tax. The only difference will be that money that used to go to the government in tax revenues will instead go to the oil industry as higher profits.
As Baker notes, the public is ill-served by coverage that fails to make clear the impact (or lack thereof) of this proposal.

The Tax Policy Center's Len Burman and Eric Toder are also critical. They write "unless the plan's aim is to boost short-term profits for petroleum refineries, the proposal makes no sense."

Update: More from the Washington Post's Fact Checker, Thomas Friedman, Howard Gleckman and Paul Krugman (who seems to have a hard time saying anything positive about Obama).

Update #2 (5/2): Apparently I'm not the only one having a Paul Tsongas flashback. Meanwhile, Clinton campaign official Howard Wolfson says: “There are times that a president will take a position that a broad support of quote-unquote experts agree with. And there are times they will take a position that quote-unquote experts do not agree with.” Ugh.

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