House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) promised reporters this week that his committee would not pass any new taxes – oh, sorry, “user fees” – on gasoline.
Speaking to reporters at the GOP retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania on Thursday, Ryan flatly asserted that his committee “won’t pass a gas tax.” He even had the gall to call it a “tax,” which is perhaps the best indication of his sincerity.
The former Republican vice presidential nominee recently ruled out a 2016 White House bid and will instead pursue broad tax code reform as the chairman of the committee responsible for drafting tax law. “We just want to make sure we have the best possible tax reform that creates jobs, is fair,” Ryan said when asked by reporters how he planned to work with President Barack Obama.
Ryan’s mission to overhaul the tax code would be derailed if the GOP opened the 114th Congress with no higher priority than raising the tax burdens of the voters who had just given Republicans control over the reins of the Senate.
That is, however, exactly what some prominent GOP senators wanted. While plaintively insisting that reporters calls it a “user fee,” despite the fact that to do so would be misleading, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) recently embraced the gas tax hike as a means of closing the Highway Trust Fund deficit.
Inhofe was joined by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) “We’ll have to look at that,” he confirmed last week. “I’m looking at everything.”
“I prefer not to increase taxes, but to me that’s a user fee,” Hatch bemoaned. “People who use the highways ought to pay for them. And that’s a small price to pay to have the best highway system in the world.”
And, yet, the public was not convinced by these Republicans that they just don’t pay enough in taxes.
An Investors Business Daily/TIPP poll found this week that 59 percent of respondents oppose a new gas tax hike. That figure included 65 percent of self-described independents and 70 percent of Republican voters. Unsurprisingly, this survey found that lower-income families were warier of this regressive tax hike than were their more well-off counterparts.
Of course, there would have been offsets had this tax increase gone forward. Democrats voiced support for something that would target lower and middle income Americans while conservatives like Charles Krauthammer backed reducing FICA taxes by a commensurate amount. But the offsets never seem to thoroughly mitigate the damage done to Americans’ balance books by tax hikes in Washington. Moreover, Republicans would have shattered the faith of their core supporters had one of their first acts after taking control of both chambers of Congress been to increase consumption taxes on gasoline.
So the Highway Trust Fund will have to remain in the red for a little bit longer while a pro-growth solution to America’s unbalanced budgets is worked out. Good for Paul Ryan. Maybe the country really is better off with him in Congress instead of the White House.