Top Senate Republican criticizes gas tax holiday under Biden — but proposed one under Bush


South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune proposed a federal gas tax holiday in 2006. Now he's criticizing Democratic colleagues for doing the same thing in 2022.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune reportedly criticized Democratic colleagues on Tuesday for proposing a temporary tax cut for Americans who drive gasoline-fueled cars. Sixteen years ago, however, he authored a bill that proposed the exact same thing.

Sens. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) announced on Feb. 9 the introduction of a bill "to lower high gas prices by temporarily suspending the federal gas tax through the end of the year, bringing much-needed economic relief to families."

Their Gas Prices Relief Act, co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), Jackie Rosen (NV), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Raphael Warnock (GA), would suspend the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal tax on gasoline purchases for the rest of 2022. It includes provisions to ensure that the money saved goes to consumers and that the Treasury Department replaces the lost revenue to the Highway payments with money from the general fund.

The sponsors noted that gas prices are nearly a dollar higher than a year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic affected much of the U.S. economy and suppressed demand.

"People are feeling a real pinch on everyday goods, and we must do more to help address rising costs, particularly the price of gas," Hassan wrote in their press release. "We need to continue to think creatively about how we can find new ways to bring down costs, and this bill would do exactly that, making a tangible difference for workers and families."

But Senate Republicans are accusing them of only trying to help constituents because there is an election coming up.

According to Punchbowl News' Jake Sherman, Thune, who is seeking a fourth term representing South Dakota in November, said on Tuesday that his colleagues' proposal was a "transparent political move, to try and give political cover to a handful of Democrats that are up in states this year where gas prices are going to be a big issue."

On the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, Thune said:

There are some Democrat senators now who are suggesting, Well, let's just waive the gas tax temporarily. The gas tax, which pays for all the infrastructure that we travel on in this country, and which would leave a huge hole, obviously, in the Highway Trust Fund, which is critically important to every state in the union that depends upon the federal government, the Highway Trust Fund, and the fuel tax to fund the infrastructure that enables our economy to move and keeps us competitive in the global marketplace. That's their solution. Now, it's short-term, short-term, obviously to benefit, to try and gain some political advantage at a time when people all of a sudden now on the other side are starting to worry. Efforts being led by four Democrats who are up for reelection this year.

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Cornyn of Texas similarly dismissed the bill as a campaign ploy.

But when Republicans held a majority in the Senate and George W. Bush was in the White House, Thune held a very different view.

In April 2006, noting high fuel prices, Thune introduced the Gas Price Reduction Act. In the announcement press release, still visible on his Senate website, he explained that his bill "would suspend the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax through the end of September" and would give "American consumers immediate relief at the pump."

"People should not have to empty their wallets to fill up their tanks," Thune wrote. "My plan would reduce the price of gas by almost 20 cents, which would provide families and small businesses across America immediate relief at the pump. It is not right for Americans to be pinching pennies while oil companies are posting record profits."

Thune's legislation did not pass out of the Committee on Finance.

A Thune spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

The Democratic senators are reportedly talking through their plan with the Biden administration.

The White House and Democratic majority are also working to address the problem by reducing the need for gasoline entirely.

Last year, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a bipartisan bill providing for investment of $550 billion in broadband, water system, transportation, and electrical grid infrastructure. The package includes $7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle charging stations and $5.75 billion to replace buses and other gasoline-fueled public transportation with clean, zero-emission vehicles.

The climate provisions of the Build Back Better agenda — which Thune, Cotton, Cornyn, and every other congressional Republican opposes — would invest another $555 billion in clean energy.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.