Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of political gamesmanship in their attempts to suspend the federal gasoline tax.
Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said that Senate Democrats were only embracing the proposal in hopes of appeasing voting ahead of a tough midterm election.
“They want this to expire right after the midterms as soon as the next congress is sworn in,” he said. “Democrats want to blow a $20 billion hole in highway funding so they can try to mask the effects of their own liberal policies on working Americans.”
Mr. McConnell added that the proposal was designed not only to trick voters but also to mask the adverse impact of President Biden’s climate policies.
“They’ve spent the entire year waging a holy war on affordable American energy, and now they want to use a pile of taxpayers’ money to literally hide the consequences,” he said.
A cadre of Democratic senators introduced legislation to suspend the federal gasoline tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon, through Jan. 1. They said the move is needed to counter inflation, which has reached a 40-year high under Mr. Biden.
“People are feeling a real pinch on everyday goods, and we must do more to help address rising costs, particularly the price of gas,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat backing the proposal.
The average price of gas nationally has skyrocketed nearly $3.50 per gallon since President Biden took office, according to the automobile owners club AAA. That’s nearly a dollar per gallon more than this time last year when the COVID-battered U.S. economy was just reviving and driving miles were still down.
“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,” said Mrs. Hassan.
Mr. McConnell said the gas tax holiday is a cynical political move. He notes the idea is the brainchild of vulnerable Democrats, who are facing tough reelection odds this year.
“Democrats voted in lockstep to endorse President Biden’s ban on new energy exploration on federal lands … made it harder to produce affordable and reliable American energy,” he said. “Our Democratic colleagues are suddenly talking about gas prices. And there’s a bold, creative plan.”
Mr. McConnell also argued that the gas tax holiday will wreak havoc on the Highway Trust Fund, a pool of money used to finance state and local transportation projects.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that pausing the tax would shrink federal revenues by roughly $20 billion between now and January 2023. Most of the impact would be felt by the Highway Trust Fund, which is currently responsible for implementing part of the White House’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
Budget deficit hawks also say that suspending the gasoline tax is unlikely to do much to combat inflation. They say that a tax holiday will spur demand for more gasoline consumption, likely driving prices even higher.
“While a gas tax holiday might provide some temporary relief, much of the benefit may flow through to oil producers or lead to higher prices in other sectors of the economy,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “By boosting demand in an already over-stimulated economy, the holiday would likely boost inflation in 2023 once it ends.”
Some moderate Democrats agree the proposal is flawed. Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, voiced his opposition earlier this week, saying the proposal would do little to address the cause of rising energy prices.
“It doesn’t make sense to me, just doesn’t make sense,” said Mr. Manchin, who serves as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Opposition from both high profile Republicans like Mr. McConnell and moderates like Mr. Manchin means the proposal faces an uphill battle to overcome the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for legislation to survive.