On the trail: With prices soaring, Hassan proposes to temporarily scrap gas tax

  • Senator Maggie Hassan during a visit to ConVal High School to discuss technology in 2017. Staff photo by Ben Conant

For the Monitor
Published: 2/11/2022 6:31:40 PM
Modified: 2/11/2022 6:29:57 PM

With the average price of regular gasoline up to $3.40 per gallon in New Hampshire, Sen. Maggie Hassan sprang into action this week.

The former governor and first-term senator teamed up with fellow Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, to call for the temporary suspension of the federal gas tax to help consumers struggling with rising costs at the pumps. Kelly, like Hassan, faces a potentially challenging reelection in the November midterms.

The Hassan/Kelly bill, which they titled the “Gas Prices Relief Act,” would scrap the 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax through the rest of 2022 and calls for the Treasury Department to make sure the savings are passed on to consumers rather than the oil and gas companies. And the measure, if passed into law, would also require the federal government to transfer money into the Highway Trust Fund, which is used for road construction and maintenance and supporting mass transit, to make up for the lost revenues.

“This legislation is about making sure that we get Granite Staters relief at the gas pump. People are feeling a real pinch on everyday goods, and we must do more to help address rising costs, particularly the price of gas,” Hassan said in a statement introducing the bill.

She described the bill as a creative way to bring down costs and said it would make “a tangible difference for workers and families.”

The announcement by Hassan and Kelly came the day before new federal government figures showed consumer prices surging last month to their highest levels in four decades.

The unrelenting impact of inflation comes with nine months to go until November’s elections, when the Democrats hope to retain their razor-thin majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

Democrats are facing historical headwinds – the party that wins the White House traditionally suffers setbacks in the ensuing midterms – and they’re facing a brutal political climate compounded by the president’s flagging approval ratings. Partially fueling the adverse conditions and the consistent decline in President Joe Biden’s standing among Americans has been the steep rise in consumer prices as the nation’s economy rebounds after being flattened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Poll after poll shows that inflation is a top concern among Americans. And for eight months, Republicans have been blaming the massive government spending bills, that were passed first under then-President Donald Trump and over the past year under Biden, for fueling the rise in prices. And they’re using inflation as a campaign weapon against Democrats running for reelection this year.

The new bill was quickly co-sponsored by several fellow Democrats, including Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who along with Hassan and Kelly hail from general election battleground states and are also viewed by the GOP as vulnerable in November’s midterms.

In New Hampshire, the three Republicans running for their party’s Senate nomination quickly took aim at Hassan over her new bill and the overall surge in inflation.

State Senate President Chuck Morse claimed that “all this does is kick the can down the road – this is a phony gimmick that won’t lower gas prices; more supply will. We need to produce more American energy.”

Former Londonderry town manager Kevin Smith directed his criticism right at Hassan.

“Hassan has been an absent senator, and her decision to walk in lockstep with the Biden Administration instead of standing with New Hampshire families will be remembered this November,” Smith said. “New Hampshire needs a senator who will get inflation under control to give Granite Staters relief.”

Retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc, who’s making a second straight run for the Senate GOP nomination, argued that “stunts like gas tax holidays and solutions cooked up in Washington DC won’t get it done. Hassan has failed New Hampshire and unfortunately Granite Staters are paying the price.”

Veteran New Hampshire based political scientist Wayne Lesperance noted that the Hassan bill “is a timely effort on her part.”

“But, it was timely a year ago. Unfortunately, that opens this otherwise smart decision to help Granite Staters up to charges of a campaign ploy,” added Lesperance, vice president of academic affairs at the Henniker-based New England College.

Thursday’s stunning inflation report came a week after U.S. Labor Department figures spotlighted no letup in the very robust jobs recovery. Republicans were waiting to take aim at the White House – amid expectations of a lackluster January unemployment report. But the figures showed that job growth rose far more than expected despite the surge in COVID cases due to the omicron variant. The report also highlighted soaring wage growth for the month, and for last year.

But the jump in wages – skyrocketing 5.7% over the 12 months that ended in January – is still lower that the 7.5% surge in consumer prices.

The president, reacting to the inflation report, said there are “signs that we will make it through this challenge” and that while the latest “report is elevated, forecasters continue to project inflation easing substantially by the end of 2022.”

GOP pollsters, pointing to rising frustrations among voters as they cope with higher prices at the gas pumps and grocery stores, argue that the end of the year may be too late to provide political comfort to Democrats like Hassan running in the midterms.

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