Well, yes and no, but it’s refreshing to see that Krauthammer wants to employ some price controls for gasoline. And that’s the bigger story in all of this…that a hard core fiscal conservative sees the need for a more reliable price for gas so the new generation of hybrids will be desirable in the market place.
Today we are experiencing a unique moment. Oil prices are in a historic free fall from a peak of $147 a barrel to $39 today. In July, U.S. gasoline was selling for $4.11 a gallon. It now sells for $1.65. With $4 gas still fresh in our memories, the psychological impact of a tax that boosts the pump price to near $3 would be far less than at any point in decades. Indeed, an immediate $1 tax would still leave the price more than one-third below its July peak.
The rub, of course, is that this price drop is happening at a time of severe recession. Not only would the cash-strapped consumer rebel against a gas tax. The economic pitfalls would be enormous. At a time when overall consumer demand is shrinking, any tax would further drain the economy of disposable income, decreasing purchasing power just when consumer spending needs to be supported.
What to do? Something radically new. A net-zero gas tax. Not a freestanding gas tax but a swap that couples the tax with an equal payroll tax reduction. A two-part solution that yields the government no net increase in revenue and, more importantly–that is why this proposal is different from others–immediately renders the average gasoline consumer financially whole.
Here is how it works. The simultaneous enactment of two measures: A $1 increase in the federal gasoline tax–together with an immediate $14 a week reduction of the FICA tax. Indeed, that reduction in payroll tax should go into effect the preceding week, so that the upside of the swap (the cash from the payroll tax rebate) is in hand even before the downside (the tax) kicks in.
Something tells me that an idea like this could work, especially if Obama tells Americans what the consequences of cheap gas are and that this won’t be any cost to them.
Still, this could be spin as a new “tax” increase and my guess is that the Obama team wouldn’t want to wrestle with that any time soon. Which is unfortunate, but one of the realities we all have to deal with in sound bite culture.