Chances Seen as Slim for Temporary Gas-Tax Repeal

From Associated Press

The Senate took a halting step Thursday toward acting on legislation that would temporarily roll back 4.3 cents of the federal gas tax. The measure has little chance of House passage and does not offer much relief for motorists coping with spiraling prices at the pump.

Republicans, led by Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, are making the issue prime fodder for this election year, referring to it as the “Gore tax” because Vice President Al Gore cast the tie-breaking 1993 Senate vote to pass it.

Presumptive GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush favors “efforts to lower gas prices” but has not taken a stand on the repeal, spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said.

Substantive action on the measure was put off until next week at the earliest, despite an 86-11 Senate vote Thursday to proceed.


Suspending the tax, said Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), “represents us doing something and the administration doing nothing.”

Most Democrats and some Republicans who oppose the repeal could have tried to muster the votes to kill the bill. But instead of being put on record as opposing a tax rollback, they opted to let the bill remain alive--and give themselves time to offer alternatives.

“I could not be more strongly in opposition to repealing the gas tax,” said Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). “I think this ought to be debated.”

Lott still faces an uphill fight to gain the 60 votes necessary to overcome the bipartisan opposition to his legislation, which would eliminate the 4.3-cent-a-gallon tax for the rest of the year and suspend the entire 18.4-cent federal gas tax until January if gas prices top $2 a gallon.

The debate came a few days after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to boost production by 1.7 million barrels of oil a day, which could trigger a slow price decline to follow the recent drop from $34 a barrel a few weeks ago to $26.45 a barrel this week. U.S. officials say the crude price could drop another $2.50 a barrel by late summer.

Opponents of Lott’s bill, including many Republicans, said the proposal would jeopardize about $7 billion a year in money for highway, bridge and mass transit projects that are high priorities on Capitol Hill. Lott, however, said his bill would replace the lost money out of projected budget surpluses.