Trump ally in House calls for doubling gas tax to pay for infrastructure

A Trump ally on Capitol Hill is calling for the doubling of the federal gas tax and airline fees in order to pay for the $2 trillion infrastructure package being negotiated by President TrumpDonald John TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is 'a wise and prudent decision' MORE and Democratic leaders.

Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsHouse bill would ban stock trading by members of Congress Former Rep. Chris Collins sentenced to 2 years in prison for insider trading GOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts MORE (R-N.Y.) is urging Congress to double the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, which has not been raised in more than a quarter century. He also wants to double the existing fee that airline passengers pay per flight.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I not only support increasing the gas tax; I support doubling it. I support doubling the airline passenger fee from $4.50 to $8 or $9. Those are user fees. I won’t even call it a tax,” Collins told The Hill in an interview after Trump and Democratic leaders agreed Tuesday to try to fund a $2 trillion bill to improve the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

“If you don’t want to pay the airline user fee, don’t fly. And if you don’t want to pay the gas fee, you don’t have to drive,” added Collins, who also believes that a third of the infrastructure package could be completed through public-private partnerships. “We need real pay-fors. … This is a direct, real pay-for.”

It’s rare to hear a Republican openly call for raising taxes, let alone doubling them. So it’s not a surprise that Collins is mostly alone among GOP members, who have held up the 2017 tax reform law as one of the key legislative triumphs of the Trump era.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy says fourth stimulus bill might not be necessary Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House MORE (R-Calif.) opposes any effort to raise the federal gas tax and helped lead a campaign last cycle to repeal a gas-tax increase in the Golden State.

Other House Republicans argue that boosting the gas tax would be regressive, putting a greater burden on lower-income Americans who can’t afford it, and would only serve as a short-term fix as more drivers shift to vehicles that run on little or no gas.

“I don’t think that is the way forward,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartCapitol Police officer tests positive for coronavirus NJ lawmaker tests negative for COVID-19 Coronavirus in Congress: Lawmakers who have tested positive MORE (Fla.), a top Republican voice on transportation issues. “The Highway Trust Fund is deficient because of a change in technology. We have more efficient automobiles, electric automobiles, we have hybrids — that’s not going to change.

“So doing a gas-tax increase doesn’t, long-term, solve the problem and is highly regressive. It is the way out, but it’s not acceptable.”

Still, Collins, who was the first member of Congress to endorse then-candidate Trump during the 2016 GOP primary, may have an ally in the president when it comes to the gas tax.

In a meeting with lawmakers a year ago, the president expressed support for a 25-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike, according to news reports at the time, a suggestion that sparked outrage among anti-tax crusaders such as Grover Norquist.

In his infrastructure meeting with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus Graham: Pelosi comment on Trump is 'most shameful, disgusting statement by any politician in modern history' The coronavirus pandemic versus the climate change emergency MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJoe Biden can't lead the charge from his home in Delaware Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing MORE (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday, Trump did not reiterate his support for a gas-tax hike or tip his hand on how exactly he wants to fund the $2 trillion package.

But according to sources in the room, the president trashed his own White House plan unveiled last year, which called for $200 billion of federal spending to leverage at least $800 billion in private investment over the next decade.

“That bill was so stupid," Trump told the Democratic leaders, according a source in the meeting.

While Collins is looking at fixing potholes and aging bridges, he’s facing his own problems on the legal front. The congressman representing parts of western New York was indicted by the Justice Department last year on insider trading charges.

He has denied the allegations and will go to trial in 2020.