As Biden touts gas tax pause, even some of his own officials balk

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President Biden appealed to Congress on Wednesday to suspend the federal gas tax, saying it was critical to reduce the pain Americans are feeling at the pump. “I promise you I’m doing everything possible to bring the price of energy down,” Biden said, as images of oil pumps and gas stations flickered on the wall behind him.

But the notion of a gas tax holiday was met with instant criticism — not only from members of both parties on Capitol Hill, but even from many officials within the administration who said privately that it would probably do little to significantly lower gas prices.

Top Treasury Department officials expressed doubts about the gas tax holiday, and at least two top White House economists also privately conveyed reservations, according to two people familiar with the internal deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose sensitive conversations.

Biden’s determination to push ahead despite these internal concerns reflects his struggle to confront an economic landscape that, despite some signs of strength, is of deep concern to many voters. From declaring inflation “transitory” to describing a recession as “not inevitable,” White House officials have veered from one message to another.

They have also cast about urgently for policy moves to bring down Americans’ costs, despite having few obvious policy tools to dramatically reduce the price of gas. Even as Biden on Wednesday urged Congress to pass the tax holiday, asked states to suspend their own gas taxes and demanded that oil refiners produce more fuel, he acknowledged the limitations of his policy prescriptions.

“I fully understand that a gas tax holiday alone is not going to fix the problem,” Biden said. “But it will provide families some immediate relief, just a little bit of breathing room, as we continue working to bring down prices for the long haul.”

How a gas tax holiday would work

Biden asked Congress to suspend the federal gas tax of 18.3 cents per gallon — and the diesel tax of 24.3 cents per gallon — for three months, a request that comes just before July 4, when millions of Americans are expected to travel for the holiday. The average cost of a gallon of gas hit nearly $4.955 per gallon nationally Wednesday, down from its record high of more than $5 per gallon earlier this month, according to AAA.

But the president’s request is likely to face tough opposition on Capitol Hill, including from top members of his own party who have already made it clear that they object to a gas tax suspension. It remains unclear what Biden plans to do, if anything, to corral lawmakers into supporting the policy.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) stressed that he is “sympathetic” to the president’s request and that lowering gas prices is an “good objective.” But Hoyer joined other Democrats in expressing a concern it may not “have the intended effect in terms of the retail price.”

And he said Democratic leaders “don’t know” if they have the votes to advance it and haven’t yet counted.

“[Rep. Peter A.] DeFazio … [Speaker Nancy]…

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