GOP Senate leaders will seek to ease gas tax
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican leaders in the Senate have agreed to introduce legislation to temporarily repeal the 4.3 cents per gallon 1993 gasoline tax increase until the end of the year and suspend the larger 18.4 cents per gallon if gasoline hits $2 per gallon.
Republican sources said a GOP Senate task force on energy, which has been meeting all week to decide how to respond to high gasoline prices, decided Thursday to write a bill in such a way that the temporary repeal would be "harmless" to the highway trust fund, a direct beneficiary of the tax.
Aides said this would mean the highway trust fund, which goes directly to states for building and repairing roads, would have to draw from the federal surplus until the end of the year.
A difficult vote to win
Republican aides say such a bill will be difficult to pass in the Senate and has lukewarm support in the House of Representatives.
The tax-cutting GOP majority has been scrutinizing the 4.3 cents per gallon tax in recent weeks amid soaring gas prices.
Last week, top Republicans stopped demanding the repeal of the tax after concluding that such a move would endanger billions of dollars in popular highway projects -- a decision that rankled some members of their own party.
With Thursday's decision, Republican aides said their leadership now wants to show the American people they are looking for solutions to high prices at the pump.
Saving $43 a year
Some Republicans, however, still believe the tax should stay in place.
At a news conference Thursday morning, two Republican senators urged their leadership not to attempt to repeal the tax, claiming it won't have enough of an effect to make a difference in people's wallets.
"I think that from a logical point of view -- common sense point of view -- when you look at this repeal and the dollars saved ... that people will just not understand why we're even talking about this,"
said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
"If you're the average driver in this country and you put on 15,000 miles a year, and you get approximately 15 miles per gallon you are going to save all of $43 and some cents," he said.
Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, said the tax cut could, ironically, punch a hole in taxpayers' wallets.
"As I drove in this morning, guess what, I hit a pothole," Warner said. "And I said to myself, every American will pay about $120 a year for car repairs if we take this tax off. That's the translation of the amount of revenue that will fall."
But Republican aides said the GOP leadership believes debate on the issue could be politically beneficial, calling the 4.3 cents a gallon tax the "Gore
tax," since it passed in 1993 with Vice President Al Gore's tie breaking vote.
Senate leadership aides said the legislation, which is still being written, will likely come to the floor for a vote sometime next week.
The move comes as members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, gather for a meeting in Vienna, Austria, on March 27.
The Clinton administration has urged oil ministers to approve a substantial increase in production that, in turn, would reduce gasoline and diesel prices.
Republicans charge that the administration has failed to keep the pressure on OPEC and has allowed U.S. oil production to diminish.
Producer Dana Bash contributed to this report.