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Obama Reluctant To Raise Federal Gas Tax

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Obama Reluctant To Raise Federal Gas Tax

Politics

Obama Reluctant To Raise Federal Gas Tax

Obama Reluctant To Raise Federal Gas Tax

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/383724460/383724461" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Some lawmakers are pushing for a hike in the federal gas tax to help pay for roads and bridges. The White House wants to spend on infrastructure too but not through an increase in the gas tax.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The low price of gas has energized talk of raising the federal tax on gas. It's now selling for just over $2 a gallon nationwide, giving drivers a big break at the pump. Yet even though President Obama has proposed spending billions on road, construction and other infrastructure improvements, the White House isn't exactly embracing a hike on the gas tax. NPR's Scott Horsley has the story.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: At a briefing on the president's budget this week, White House advisers outlined their plan to raise money for transportation projects with a one-time tax on the profits that U.S. corporations have amassed overseas. That prompted a question from a Washington Post editorial writer named Stephen Stromberg.

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STEPHEN STROMBERG: Why not just raise the gas tax?

HORSLEY: Officials replied that President Obama has no plans to raise the gas tax. The Post editorial page then accused Obama of ducking the obvious. It's not the first time the idea has come up. Two months ago, the CEO of FedEx pressed Obama to raise the tax which hasn't budged in more than two decades. Obama didn't bite.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Gas prices are one of those things that really bug people.

HORSLEY: But gas prices have tumbled more than a $1.20 a gallon in the last year, leaving a lot more money in drivers' pockets. If the government collected just a fraction of those savings, it could pay for most of the public works projects the president's been pushing. A higher gas tax would also help to discourage carbon pollution, another administration goal, so Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer is puzzled about why the White House is resisting.

REPRESENTATIVE EARL BLUMENAUER: It has me scratching my head. But I just think they got locked in early and were reluctant to budge.

HORSLEY: Blumenauer, a Democrat who sports a bicycle pin on his lapel, is not giving up. He's pushing a bill to raise the gas tax by a nickel a gallon in each of the next three years. Out of that, the tax would rise with inflation. On his side are the Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the American Trucking Associations and AAA. Kathleen Bower is vice president of the auto club, which boasts 55 million members nationwide.

KATHLEEN BOWER: Nobody likes the idea of paying more. But what we do know is that our members want better and safer roads.

HORSLEY: Bower argues drivers are already paying a price for congestion and unfilled potholes, hundreds of dollars a year in wasted gas, time and car repairs. As many as a dozen states are considering their own gas tax increases this year, taking advantage of the window offered by low prices at the pump.

BOWER: Now is a good time because the impact will not feel as painful.

HORSLEY: Top lawmakers from both parties have signaled a willingness to consider raising the federal gas tax, and even the White House appears to be warming to the idea. Yesterday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest repeated that Obama has no plans to propose a higher gas tax, but he opened the door just a crack.

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JOSH EARNEST: There clearly is, you know, building bipartisan support for doing that. And we're going to keep our eyes open and consider ideas that are put forward by Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

HORSLEY: Congressman Blumenauer says he doesn't expect the president to lead the motorcade for a higher gas tax. But at least, he says, Obama is no longer blocking traffic. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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