The Clinton and McCain pander on the gas tax—both propose a summer tax holiday, Clinton's "paid for" by a windfall profits tax on the Snidely Whiplash gas companies—is probably the stupidest issue to surface in this race since the February NAFTA-bash. There is a debate to have about whether the gas tax is an effective way of collecting revenue, but no one seriously thinks it's too high. It's 18.4 cents per gallon. The average consumer will save about $30 over the entire summer if we scrap the tax. Liberal economist Dean Baker:
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. If Senator Clinton is able to use this proposal to draw a contrast with Senator Obama in expressing concern for middle-class families it could only be attributable to the extraordinary incompetence of the reporters who are covering the campaign.
Both Democrats are hypocrites on this, Clinton considerably more so:
In 2000, Mr. Obama supported a bill in the Illinois legislature to suspend most of the state’s 6.25 percent gasoline sales tax. But he later opposed making the reduction permanent, arguing that the state needed the revenue and that the measure had saved consumers little.
Mrs. Clinton, of New York, has also taken varying stands on the issue of gas taxes. In her 2000 Senate campaign, she spoke against repealing the federal gasoline tax, calling it “one of those few taxes that New York actually gets more money from Washington than we send.”
More than that, it's the first thing alleged environmentalists like McCain and Clinton should talk about when they talk about weaning the country off foreign oil, which is why Clinton's husband mulled a 50-cent gas tax when he got into office.
Terrifying headline explainer here.
UPDATE: From the comments:
Shouldn't libertarians embrace any level of tax relief as a good thing?
If they're suckers, sure. Clinton and McCain aren't challenging the existence of the tax: They are implicitly saying it's a good tax that we should all relish paying in the non-summer months. Clinton is doing this and arguing that higher taxes on energy companies should be part of the bargain. It's phony populism in the service of a "tax cut" that would fund one meal for two at Applebees, which may or may not include dessert.