Key Dem embraces Obama oil tax

Key Dem embraces Obama oil tax
© Greg Nash

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday embraced President Obama's proposal for a new $10 per barrel oil tax to fund green transportation initiatives.

Republicans have denounced the plan, warning of its effect on working-class wallets, and are sure to expand those attacks against Democrats on the campaign trail.

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But Hoyer's vocal support is an early indication that Democratic leaders, hardly running away from the tax, see it as a political winner amid growing public concerns about crumbling infrastructure, deficit spending and the human influence on climate change.

"We should have raised the gasoline tax. ... This is another way of doing it," Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

"We have substantial transportation needs. And if we care about, not only this generation but the generations to come, we will [need] the dollars to invest in those transportation [programs]," he added. 

"So I think the president felt that that was an appropriate way to do it. He's applying the dollars to priorities that he believes are important and trying to bring down the deficit, as well." 

Unveiled last week, Obama's tax proposal aims to generate more than $32 billion annually to promote a greener transportation sector. 

Roughly $20 billion would fund public transit, $10 billion would go to local efforts to reduce carbon emissions and another $2.4 billion would underwrite research into clean vehicles. 

“By placing a fee on oil, the president’s plan creates a clear incentive for private sector innovation to reduce our reliance on oil and at the same time invests in clean energy technologies that will power our future,” according to a White House fact sheet outlining the plan.

Republicans were quick to pounce. Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan reminds lawmakers to be on time for votes Lawmakers consider new security funding in wake of shooting Paul Ryan: ‘Beautiful day’ to catch up with Bono MORE (R-Wis.) slammed the plan last week, warning that it would cripple the economy by raising energy costs on consumers at all income levels. 

"This announcement, the latest in a series of regulatory attacks on the energy sector, proves President Obama is still on a mission to destroy a major backbone of the U.S. economy," Ryan said in a statement. 

The tax issue has been a delicate one for the Democrats this election year. Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump notes 'election meddling by Russia' in tweet criticizing Obama Former Obama advisor calls Fox ‘state sanctioned media’ Biden rips Senate GOP healthcare bill, says it 'isn't about healthcare' MORE, the Democratic presidential front-runner, has vowed repeatedly to oppose any tax increase on the middle class — a position designed to distinguish her platform from that of fellow candidate Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders: ‘Thousands will die’ under GOP health bill A tale of two drug bills — one proposed bill will worsen the drug prices crisis The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE, who's proposing a tax hike to pay for his single-payer healthcare plan.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also sought to distance the Democrats from any middle-class tax hikes this campaign season, saying she doesn't support Sanders's healthcare strategy.

"We're not running on any platform of raising taxes," Pelosi said last month during the Democrats' yearly issues retreat.

Practically speaking, Obama's oil-tax proposal is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled Congress. But, politically, it could muddy the Democrats' pledge not to raise taxes, especially if the Republicans are successful in convincing voters that the additional costs to oil companies would simply be passed down to consumers.

It's an argument for which Hoyer said he's bracing.  

"We're going to have that debate," he said.  

"There's no doubt the Republicans will oppose any additional revenues. They want to get every one of their priorities done by cutting items they think are less priority," he added. "And we'll see what those items are in their budget."