White House open to paying for infrastructure spending with ... a 25-cent gas tax hike?

Does POTUS know who elected him? He’s prone to referring to his base as “my people” in private conversation but sometimes I think his grasp on who “his people” are is slippery.

Maybe having a Democrat like Gary Cohn as chief of staff isn’t so surprising after all.

Axios is calling this a “scoop,” by the way, but I’m not sure why. Trump’s receptivity to hiking the gas tax was reported days ago. He even signaled some interest back in May 2017, around the time the White House held one of its first of many “infrastructure weeks.” He got a rare rave review for it at the time from the editorial board of the New York Times, so you know it must be a cracking good idea.

President Trump endorsed a 25-cent gas tax hike to pay for infrastructure at a White House meeting this morning with senior administration officials and members of Congress from both parties, according to two sources with direct knowledge. Trump also said he was open to other ways to pay for infrastructure, according to a source with direct knowledge.

Reality check: Trump’s gas tax idea appears dead on arrival. Republicans aren’t about to hike taxes for the Trump voters driving their pickup trucks to work every day. It’s a regressive tax and in Republicans’ minds would undo some of working and middle class tax cuts they just passed.

The gas tax is currently 18.4 cents a gallon for gas and 24.4 cents for diesel. It was last raised in 1993.

“A gas tax hike is like a laser-guided missile aimed at Trump’s own voters,” sniffs Philip Klein. Indeed. That’s what I mean when I ask if he understands who “his people” are. He won the presidency because lower-income white voters showed up en masse for him, in many cases crossing the aisle to do so after supporting Obama in 2012. He ran as a populist and he won as a populist, promising to bring back blue-collar jobs and to protect entitlements.

As president, though, he’s let doctrinaire conservatives like Ryan and McConnell take the lead on policy, with the result being fewer populist policies than you might expect from a Trump administration. The GOP health-care proposals rolled back ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion dramatically; the GOP tax cuts were aimed mainly at reducing the corporate tax rate, with Marco Rubio and Mike Lee forced to fight for a very modest increase to the child tax credit. Now here’s POTUS shrugging at a highly regressive tax hike that would mean nothing at all to the rich but quite a lot to someone who makes, say, $35,000 a year and has a long commute to work. You know, his base.

Historically the polling on this hasn’t been great either. From my post in May, the last time Trump floated this idea:

When Gallup polled that issue back in 2013, asking Americans whether they’d support or oppose a gas-tax rate of 20 cents per gallon to fund repairs to roads and bridges, they got a breezy 29/66 split with even Democrats opposed by a 40/55 margin. Republicans were almost universally against the idea at 15/84, but that was back during the Obama era when GOPers were still pretending to be fiscal conservatives. (It was also an era when gas was about $1.30 more expensive per gallon than it is now.) If Trump comes out strongly in favor, I bet we can get that number to, oh, 40/60. File the gas-tax hike under “still probably going to be ‘looking at it’ in 2020.”

In California, a state as blue as they come, a poll taken in December showed 52 percent supported repealing the state’s new gas tax. Imagine a national poll if the GOP rubber-stamped a national hike.

The timing is weird too, as Ed noted on Monday. The party’s just banked some political goodwill from the new tax cuts. The economy’s booming, Republican political fortunes are rising, Trump’s popularity is higher than it’s been in months. Why would you want to jeopardize that with a gas tax hike that’ll not only hit your downscale voters at the pump but will hit them at the supermarket too, as the cost of transporting goods is passed on to consumers? If ever there was a moment for Trump to try to soak the rich, you would think, it would be right now with a small tax hike aimed at subsidizing infrastructure. Presumably Democrats would get on board, which might build momentum for a broader infrastructure compromise. Congressional Republicans would hate it, but who cares? The party’s congressional representation is garbage, badly mismatched with its base. That’s how Trump became a phenomenon in the first place, by breaking with the “protect the rich” trickle-down credo and focusing on “the common man.” If he got behind a proposal that the upper class needs to pay for infrastructure, his grassroots fans would likely say “right on.” And what would Ryan and McConnell do then, knowing that those voters are crucially important to holding the House and Senate in the midterms?

The argument *for* a gas tax hike, I guess, is this: If not now, when? Most of the public just got an income tax cut. The economy’s booming. Infrastructure needs to be paid for. If you can’t nudge the gas tax up right now, when will you ever be able to do it? Exit question: What would Steve Bannon do?