Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Good Point and an Opportunity

President Bush argued today that Congress should not enact a 5 cent gasoline tax to pay for a wave of infrastructure repairs following the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

Instead he says, " [Congress should] revisit the process by which they spend gasoline money in the first place...”

The President is basically railing against the pork barrel spending that has dominated the Transportation Committees for years - throughout years of both Republican and Democratic control.

I agree with the President and I would advise the Democrats to take a different course for both policy and political reasons.

(I've already commented on the interesting but now unimportant question of why President Bush didn't ask the Congress to do this while his party controlled it).

Many people support a gasoline tax on national security and/or environmental grounds. Some probably see this "crisis" as an opportunity to take a difficult step that will benefit several areas of public policy.

The reason that I disagree with this line of thinking is that a five cent increase is too small to meaningfully impact gas consumption, but it is more than large enough to give Republicans a (legitimate) club to use against the Democrats in the next election.

But more importantly, there is a superior policy reason to pursue an alternative course. The Democrats have recently passed an ethics bill that would dramatically cut earmarks and/or pork barrel spending.

If they were to connect the financial response to this bridge collapse with a more efficient use of public resources (redirecting the pork to the public) instead of a reflexive tax increase, it would make it more likely that the President would have to support the bill.

He would have to put his money (and by his money, I mean our money) where his mouth is....

On the political side, this could deflect the tax-and-spend framework the Republicans will undoubtedly try to invoke in the coming election.

It seems like good politics and good policy don't seem to intersect very often in this divisive age of wedge issues. That makes it more important than ever to recognize and act upon these chances when they arise....

1 comment:

Jared said...

One addition to this post:

I just read an "unscientific" poll on on this issue. With just over 69,0000 votes casts, 73% of respondents said they did NOT favor the government raising the gasoline tax to pay for the bridge repairs.

Not a surprising number, but it still drives home an important point.