News reports of President Trump’s negotiations with the Democratic congressional leadership suggest the president may be considering endorsing a Democratic proposal to more than double the federal gas tax, raising it from the current 18.4 cents per gallon to 43.4 cents per gallon to pay for infrastructure spending.
This would be a huge, huge mistake.
Bill Clinton lost two elections over raising the gas tax.
In 1980, in Arkansas, he was defeated for re-election for raising car licensing fees.
Then, in 1994, he lost control of Congress largely because he raised the federal gas tax by five cents.
(Some observers say he lost Congress because of the unpopularity of Hillary’s education reforms and others blame it on his increase in the top income tax bracket to 39.6 percent. But, as Governor Clinton’s and then President Clinton’s pollster in 1981 and 1994, I can attest that it was the gas tax hike that brought him down both times).
The message, that Clinton never learned, was simple: Don’t mess with car taxes.
Trump has made enormous progress in bringing blue-collar voters to the Republican Party.
An increase in the gas tax would undo much of his gains, since gas prices are likely to go up as the embargo on Venezuelan and Iranian oil begins to bite into global supplies.
But, if Trump raises gas taxes, it will be that legislation that will get the blame as people get more and more angry over the rising pump prices.
It will make not an iota of difference that Democrats initiated and supported the gas tax increase.
Trump will get the blame.
To be reminded of the negative political potential of gas tax increase, consult the experience of French president Emmanuel Macron.
His entire administration was thrown into chaos by the ongoing street demonstrations of the so-called yellow jackets protesting petrol tax increases.
It remains to be seen if Macron can survive the political backlash his taxes have engendered.
Increasing the gas tax is a no-go zone in American politics — the new third rail.
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