Summarizing his views on Biden’s handling of rising prices, Sen. Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) said, “He was slow to respond. … People need relief now. Hassan, who faces a tough race this fall, was among those who initially proposed a gasoline tax exemption.
The party’s gas tax strand is the latest sign of the disconnect between the White House and Democrats on the Hill over how to tame voter fury over inflation, which now threatens majorities in the Senate and House. Once hoping the cost of gas, food and rent would come down by midterm, Democrats are now pleading with Biden to move beyond the optimism he publicly offers and address the price spikes as an economic crisis in its own right.
“I just think we need more clarity. And we need to be clear that this is our number one priority,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who also co-authored a gasoline tax exemption bill in February. “If it were up to me, this would be a mainstay of every White House briefing.”
White House officials insist they have long recognized the problem, but say much of it is beyond their control. Biden has warned for months that sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine would have domestic repercussions by cutting oil supplies. Congressional Democrats passed $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid law last year which many experts say overheated the economy, heightening tensions within the party.
The White House has also given up his initial view that inflation would be temporary; now, Biden’s entire domestic agenda centers on efforts to cool rising prices.
“I fully understand that the gas tax exemption alone will not solve the problem, but it will provide families with immediate relief,” Biden said Wednesday. “We’re doing everything we can to reduce that pain at the pump now.”
Some House Democrats might dispute that statement. Last week, a team of top White House advisers traveled to Capitol Hill to discuss economic messages with caucus members. In the end, about half a dozen Democrats — led by a visibly angry Rep. dean phillips (D-Minn.) – lined up for a spirited Q&A where several sought answers beyond the talking points, according to multiple people in the room.
But to many of those questions the answer was “We hear you,” according to the participants, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal conversations.
A Democratic lawmaker who attended the meeting described his frustration after the White House decided to move to the gas tax exemption, lamenting that the president’s aides had fallen behind on “problem after problem.” This member then compared Team Biden’s approach of asking members of Congress whether or not they were familiar with the classic TV show “Friends.”
In a statement, White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan said Biden had “taken historic steps to mitigate the impact of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s price hike at home,” and boasted bipartisan praise from a handful of governors and lawmakers for approving a gas. tax holiday. He added that Biden would continue to urge Congress and the oil industry to “work with him to lower gas prices for the American people.”
In March, the administration used perhaps its most important tool to lower gas prices by releasing oil from the National Strategic Reserve, convincing other countries in the process to release an additional 240 million barrels. Biden also moved to allow more ethanol in the fuel supply in hopes of easing the crisis. But with costs still rising and pressure mounting to recognize the emergency, White House officials have landed on a revival of the gas tax exemption that also calls on governors to suspend their own taxes at the state level.
And Hassan, for his part, was unimpressed: “I think we should suspend the gasoline tax for at least next year. So no, I don’t think 90 days is enough,” she said.
Sen. Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. | Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) said that beyond lifting the gas tax, “there is more we can do, more the administration should do.” Re-election of Kelly, Hassan and Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) are the Democrats’ best hopes of holding a majority in the Senate.
Other Democrats are more willing to give the White House some credit for trying, as high gas prices remain one of the biggest political perils they face over the medium term — even if there are has little guarantee of real impact.
‘The White House wants to do something,’ said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who was skeptical of the tax exemption, said of the moment. “It’s something you can do that seems like a relief.”
White House officials began considering suspending the gas tax in February, when Hassan, Kelly and others first introduced legislation that would have suspended the tax until the end of the year. ‘year. But Biden declined to endorse the concept at the time amid backlash from economists and questions from aides about whether it would make a difference for consumers.
Now that the White House has made its late entry, some Democrats have said they fear it could be part of a template for a White House policy-making mechanism that seems too slow and indecisive to respond to challenges. urgent.
Beyond pump prices, lawmakers are complaining that Biden hasn’t made decisions on student loan relief and lifting tariffs on China. Democrats also want stronger pressure from the White House to complete a bipartisan manufacturing bill that is now likely to outrun the July 4 suspension, a year after it passed the Senate.
Then there’s Biden’s long-dead domestic policy package, which the president couldn’t wrap up in talks last year with Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.). Wednesday Manchin and Senate Majority Leader chuck schumer met again to discuss the way forward, the seventh time the couple have met in recent months.
The White House believes a potential party-line bill tackling climate change, taxes, prescription drugs and deficit reduction will have the biggest effect on the party’s political fortunes.
Yet in the meantime, senior officials seem willing to try almost anything – even if their opinions on their own tactics can sometimes seem contradictory.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is due to meet with the CEOs of major oil companies on Thursday in what she billed as a session to discuss “how can we partner” with industry. But White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre played down the prospect of the meeting producing immediate results, calling it a “first step”.
Meanwhile, Biden is excoriating companies like Exxon for racking up record profits, spouting rhetoric that progressives have spent months encouraging his White House to embrace.
“If action isn’t taken soon to bring real relief to people at gas stations where they are being mugged…citizens are going to come to their senators and say, ‘I’m furious,’” the President of the Republic said. Senate finances. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who is running for re-election. He prefers to target the oil companies rather than the short-term gas tax exemption.
The White House has yet to enact such policies, such as the bill passed by the House last month aimed at cracking down on price gouging by oil and gas companies.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.
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