Permanent Holiday

The “gas-tax holiday” recommended by John McCain (and endorsed in part by Hillary Clinton) proposes a temporary reduction of the federal gas tax by 18.4 cents per gallon between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But how temporary would it likely be? Reimposing any tax once it’s been suspended is notoriously difficult politically, as McCain himself can attest. McCain opposed Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, but he subsequently voted to extend them because, he argued, failure to do so would constitute a tax hike . “I’ve never voted for a tax increase in twenty-four years,” McCain said , “… and I will never vote for a tax increase, nor support a tax increase.” If we accept this logic, then there is no such thing as a temporary tax cut. McCain, as a matter of principle , wouldn’t be able to reimpose the gas tax come Sept. 2. And it would be very difficult for Congress to do so, with Election Day just two months off.

But this discussion is probably academic. Yesterday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush opposed the idea. Today, Bush moderated that stance , saying he was “open to any ideas.” But Congress wouldn’t likely support a gas-tax holiday, seeing as the gas tax supports road construction projects that are near and dear to the hearts of its members. Clinton’s plan says she would make up that loss by raising taxes on windfall profits for oil companies, but that’s no more politically palatable, either – the phrase “windfall profits tax” brings back unwelcome memories of the Carter administration.