Durbin: 'Now is the time' to raise gas tax

Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSupreme Court poised to hear first major gun case in a decade Protecting the future of student data privacy: The time to act is now Overnight Health Care: Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills | CDC confirms 47 vaping-related deaths | Massachusetts passes flavored tobacco, vaping products ban MORE (D-Ill.) says he thinks "now is the time" to raise the gas tax, which hasn't been touched by Congress in over 20 years. 

"I think now is the time to do it, but we ought to do it in a thoughtful way," Durbin said on Wednesday.

Durbin said he wasn't speaking for the entire Democratic caucus but noted two factors lawmakers should consider when opening up discussion on increasing the tax.

One, Durbin said, is "the most devastating impact is on lower and middle income families… so we have to find some tax relief for them if we increase that gas tax."

"I think we can do it," Durbin added, saying one way to shield lower income families could be through a refundable tax credit. 

Second, Durbin said, new revenue generated should go to research in the Energy and Transportation Departments "so we can continue to build more fuel efficient vehicles."

Durbin didn't have a number in mind for how much the tax should be raised, but said it needed to happen. 

The current 18.4-cents per gallon tax has seemly lost its luster with the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

While Democrats have warmed to raising the tax more than Republicans, a few GOP lawmakers are starting to change their tune as well. 

During an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said lawmakers need to "keep all options open."

"I don't favor increasing any tax," Thune said. "But I think we have to look at all options."

Similarly, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said on Wednesday that he agreed with Thune, signaling a slight shift on the issue.