Urging lawmakers to suspend the federal gas tax this week, Biden said it was an essential step to easing pain at the pump. “I promise you I’m doing everything possible — everything possible to bring the price of energy down, gas prices down,” Biden said, closing his remarks at the White House.
But the president faces widespread skepticism over the proposal, including from Democrats in Congress who have panned it as “shortsighted and inefficient,” former top policy officials, and other prominent allies. Inside the administration, two top White House economists dismissed the plan’s efficacy, according to the Washington Post.
In Virginia, the issue split local officials away from Biden when Democratic state senators shelved a Republican proposal for a three-month gas tax holiday last weekend.
Biden’s push comes as households wrestle with record inflation and voters increasingly express concerns about the job he is doing as president. His public approval rating dropped for the fourth week in a row to 36%, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll published Wednesday that found just 18% of people believe the country is headed in the right direction.
Still, some argue that the effort is sorely needed with the midterm elections bearing down.
T.J. Rooney, a former Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman, acknowledged that while the measure “doesn’t amount to much,” survey results that show more than two-thirds of people believe the country is headed in the wrong direction mean the time for action is now. “He needs to be seen as doing something,” Rooney said.
“This is a good old political ‘I am fighting for you,’” said David Ramadan, a former member of the Virginia House and an adjunct professor at the Schar School at George Mason University. “And when your approval rating is in the low 30s, you better be fighting 24/7 to limit the damage and the losses knowing very well that you are going to lose the midterms to the other side.”
Biden may find it hard to bank a win on the issue. The president has appealed to companies to pass along a reduction and states to suspend the tax but has limited power to ensure any result.
And even if the measure earns support in Congress, it could take time to make its way to consumers.
To make their case, White House officials have pointed to an analysis by the Penn Wharton Budget Model to show how state-level suspensions in Maryland, Georgia, and Connecticut have passed savings on to drivers. Maryland is now applying an 18% hike, however.
Ramadan said Biden still needs to show he is pulling out the stops to help those stung by soaring fuel costs.
“Is Biden going to get credit for it? Probably not. But you try everything you can,” he added.