What do you get when you combine a truly dumb idea with completely incompetent political execution? In Joe Biden’s administration, this question has multiple answers. Take your pick: Build Back Better, the election-federalizing bill, the abortion-on-demand bill attempted last month after the Supreme Court leak on Dobbs. All of these were bad ideas that didn’t have enough political support to go anywhere, so all they did was political damage to Democrats.
None of these may top Biden’s push over the last week for a gas-tax holiday, however. Biden spent the better part of last week on this policy, even holding a press briefing to push it with his usual dipstick demagoguery, this time aimed at gas station owners. It turns out that the White House couldn’t even make the sale among fellow Democrats, Politico reports, and it’s not clear that they bothered to try first:
President Joe Biden’s cheerleading of a gas tax holiday is putting him at odds with Democratic legislators across the country who have spent months spurning such calls.
Top Democrats in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are flat-out rejecting Biden’s plea, citing the potential for lost revenue streams for infrastructure projects and minimal savings for consumers. In California, Democratic legislative leaders who rebuffed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s attempt to stop a gas tax hike from going into effect July 1 are resisting calls for a gas tax holiday from Republicans and moderate Democrats. …
“This is the Democratic president not listening to the Democratic leaders,” consultant Scott Ferson, a Democrat who works for Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano’s political arm but is not speaking on his behalf, said in an interview. “The president has tried to come in and impose a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that has a different impact in different states.”
Here’s the first question this report prompts: Did Biden even bother to ask other Democratic leaders first before seizing on the gas-tax holiday proposal? After all, this is not at all a new idea; Barack Obama famously ridiculed it as an election-year gimmick in 2008. It has also been tried by a few states in this present inflation cycle, but the results have been negligible for consumers, which a study by Wharton has made clear. Even in Connecticut, where the savings got passed to consumers most, the difference was so small as to be hardly noticeable:
A University of Pennsylvania Wharton School study found savings from state-level gas tax holidays have so far been mixed. In Connecticut, 71 percent to 87 percent of tax savings were passed on to consumers, compared to 58 percent to 65 percent in Georgia and 72 percent in Maryland.
Connecticut’s gas tax suspension, which remains in effect through the end of the month, hasn’t significantly lowered the average price of gas per gallon compared with neighboring Massachusetts and Rhode Island. AAA listed the average price of gas per gallon in Connecticut on Thursday at $4.91, compared to $4.97 in Massachusetts and $4.94 in Rhode Island.
That’s six cents a gallon out of the suspension of a 25-cent per gallon state tax. That amount of savings would represent $0.90 per fill-up for most cars, and about $3.60 per month savings, while Connecticut forfeited the tax revenue that presumably maintains its roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure. Connecticut drivers might have done just as well going through the couch cushions.
Bear in mind that the average price of gasoline rose 40 cents — in just the first two weeks of this month. It has risen $2.643 per gallon since Biden’s inauguration, which means that Connecticut’s drivers have managed to claw back about 2.2% of the Biden price hike with this temporary “holiday,” and only for a short period of time.
The date on that Wharton study was June 15th, by the way. Biden and his team had plenty of opportunity to look at it and realize the futility of this idea, and yet they decided to make it the White House Theme of the Month instead. Why? I’d bet that no one in the West Wing bothered to read the Wharton study at all, because it has been long apparent that Biden and his team are desperately spitballing on everything in this presidency. It’s all reaction and no strategy, and it’s nowhere more apparent than in Biden’s clinging embrace of the gas-tax holiday like a drowning man clinging to his rescuer.
That brings us to the second question: Is this broad and near-instant rejection of Biden’s policy among Democrats a signal that his presidency has run out of gas? Is this the beginning of a move to abandon Biden by his party, in recognition of the clearly obvious reality of complete incompetency? Perhaps, although that may not really start getting obvious until after the midterms. Joe Biden’s schtick of dipstick demagoguery, blame-shifting, and creepy whispers has undeniably failed to impress voters, and Democrats may start looking for ways to let Biden drown on his own to save themselves soon. The gas-tax holiday rejection may be the start of that process.