- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

It’s generally not a good idea for a politician to force himself between a driver and her vehicle, especially if, say, the driver is a swing-voting, SUV-driving suburban mother in a battleground state dependent on the automobile industry. The situation would become downright combustible if the politician had a history of advocating high gasoline taxes. That, however, is precisely the position in which John Kerry finds himself.

In addition to being a longtime supporter of higher gas taxes, in 2002 he co-sponsored a radical proposal to raise fuel-efficiency standards of passenger cars and trucks by an average of 50 percent by 2015. Such a two-pronged approach would surely spell the end of the SUVs that American consumers have embraced.

Naturally, Michigan Democrats, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, are aghast at such a proposal. The autoworkers’ union, which has endorsed Mr. Kerry, also strongly opposes what it rightly considers to be a job-killing proposal.

Thus, it is understandable why Mr. Kerry became so testy after the Bush-Cheney campaign reminded voters in auto-dependent Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri and other battleground states that he proposed to increase the gasoline tax by 50 cents a gallon in 1994, the year after he voted to raise the federal gas tax by 4.3 cents.

Mr. Kerry was already feeling the sting from Bush-Cheney ads highlighting the $1 trillion “tax gap” between his spending promises and his deficit goals. Meanwhile, gasoline prices were increasing, largely in response to rising world oil prices, which recently hit 13-year highs. The last thing Mr. Kerry wants voters to know is that in the not-too-distant past his deficit-reduction tool of choice was a 50-cents-per-gallon gas tax.

Because he never actually voted to raise the gas tax by 50 cents, Mr. Kerry likes to portray his support for the idea as an inconsequential flirtation that occurred long ago under circumstances different from today. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As co-chairman of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan deficit-fighting group, Paul Tsongas issued a report in 1994 giving a failing grade to Mr. Kerry for his 1993 votes on several deficit-cutting bills. The report was especially galling coming from Mr. Tsongas, the former one-term liberal Democratic Massachusetts senator whose seat Mr. Kerry won in 1984 after Mr. Tsongas retired.

A Kerry spokeswoman told the Boston Herald that Mr. Tsongas had engaged in “sick political gamesmanship.” The Boston Globe reported that Mr. Kerry himself called the group’s scorecard “irresponsible.” What was Mr. Kerry’s principal complaint? The Concord Coalition report failed to account for “my support for a 50-cent increase in the gas tax,” Mr. Kerry angrily complained. With nearly 50 percent of the nation’s 20 million barrels per day oil consumption going to motor gasoline, that idea would translate into a $70 billion per-year tax increase.

Considering Mr. Kerry’s trillion-dollar-and-growing “tax gap” and his radical environmental agenda, highlighted by his goal of effectively eliminating today’s SUVs and other vehicles of choice, voters everywhere would be wise to fear Mr. Kerry’s fuel-efficiency radicalism and his love affair with sky-high gas taxes.

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