Roughly forty years ago, while enjoying the various relatively innocent components of my high school years including Student Council, JV Basketball and Speech Club, I had a surprisingly deep conversation with a close friend who had managed to develop a habit of drinking alcohol to excess nearly every weekend. I couldn’t understand the appeal of such reckless behavior and shared my concern. My friend explained that the buzz provided by the booze helped him escape his perceived problems, at least for a few hours. I remember staring him straight in the eye and earnestly asking, “…but aren’t the problems still there when you’ve sobered up?”
Not only was the honest answer yes, but my friend’s problems were sometimes exacerbated by the drinking. Whether he really believed his own rationale for drinking I don’t know, but I do know it was absolute nonsense.
As I watch President Joe Biden’s 2022 response to the crisis facing every car-loving American at the gas pump I am reminded of my high school pal. Why? Because Joe Biden’s response to the sky-high (and rising) cost of a gallon of gas is no more logical than my buddy’s excuse for drinking.
Long before Vladimir Putin decided to pull the trigger, literally, on invading Ukraine, Joe Biden’s policies had nearly doubled gas prices in America. In September of 2020, under President Trump, I remember happily filling my car with gas that was priced at $1.79 per gallon.
Enter President Biden and his policies on January 20, 2021. Immediately Mr. Biden stopped any and all oil and gas leases on federal lands. To put that in perspective, on the day Joe Biden took office America was the number one oil producing nation on the planet and more than 20% of production came from federal lands. Biden also put a halt to the Keystone Pipeline.
Neither of those actions did even the slightest bit to stem the world’s appetite for oil, but both made it more difficult, and more expensive, to get. In fact, Mr. Biden’s policies have contributed to the worldwide increase in the cost per barrel, and in turn, the price at the pump.
Russia is a major player in oil and gas of course, and their folly with neighboring Ukraine has only made the price problem worse. Suggesting that the full increase in gas prices is Mr. Putin’s fault however, is much like my high school friend failing to see his own role in his problems.
Much like my teenage pal, Mr. Biden has put on the emotional blinders and come up with glaringly bad ideas for how to cope. Despite their best efforts, the White House staff can’t simply ignore the penalty at the gas pump that every American is paying, so they’ve come up with a couple of suggestions on how to alleviate the headache.
One idea is to suspend the federal gas tax. Currently you pay 18.4 cents for each gallon of gas you pump. That means Americans contribute $2.21 on the average fill-up to the federal government. Every time. As the polls predict doom and gloom for Democrats in the fall elections, they are frantic to avoid responsibility for the results of their policies, so it is gimmick time. Dropping more than 18 cents per gallon until shortly (and coincidentally) after election day, seems to Democrat Members of Congress and to the White House like a great idea. Help the little guy. Cut them a break.
The flaw in the plan is the hangover. For two years Joe Biden has talked about the importance of rebuilding infrastructure in the United States. The federal gas tax is used to pay for the Highway Trust Fund, which covers expenses like highway construction and public transit. You know, also known as infrastructure. The tax generates $2.3 billion monthly, so if we suspend it for the rest of the year, that’s more than $20 billion in infrastructure that won’t be funded. That hurts everyone. Terrible idea.
The second idea from the Biden White House was revealed this week. President Biden announced on Thursday that the United States would release up to 180 million barrels of oil from the strategic reserve. He went out of his way to blame Russia for gas prices, specifically saying “Our prices are rising because of Putin’s action” and suggesting that releasing 1 million barrels a day will ease pricing at the pump. Again, the math doesn’t support this. Americans use more than 20 million barrels every day, so the best case scenario is that using the strategic oil reserve will lower prices 5%. Considering the average price of a gallon of gas in the U.S. was reported at $4.23 a gallon this week, even with the best of results, Mr. Biden’s move will still keep gas above $4.00 a gallon. Considering demand usually increases in the summer months, even that meager price break isn’t assured.
As with all things in Washington, there was widespread disagreement with Biden’s Thursday announcement. The American Petroleum Institute said Mr. Biden ought to encourage domestic oil production by reducing regulations. Produce more in the United States and depend less on countries like Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Iran? What a novel concept.
The Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental activist group, apparently cares nothing about the pain that high gas prices inflict on American families. “Putting more oil on the market is not the solution to our problem but the perpetuation of our problem,” Mark Brownstein, an EDF senior vice president, told the New York Times.
Clearly the environmentalists aren’t recognizing the same problem as the rest of the world. Skyrocketing oil prices result in inflation in nearly all sectors. According to Moody’s Analytics, it will cost American families $3312 more this year to live exactly as they did last year. Sadly it is the fringe groups like the Environmental Defense Fund that the Biden White House has been catering to since day one. The results have been a disaster.
The crazy ideas of suspending the federal gas tax or releasing oil reserves until after election day make no more sense than my high school friend’s binge drinking. Both temporarily make it seem like the world’s problems have lessened. Both leave you to face the same problems after the binge, and both have a tendency to make the problem worse.
Whether Mr. Biden actually believes his own rationale for these silly policies I don’t know, but much like the drinking of my classmate from long ago, I do know it is absolute nonsense.
- Tim Constantine is a columnist with The Washington Times.