In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he had several concerns with the proposal and signaled he would not support it.
“I’m not a yes right now, that’s for sure,” Manchin said, just hours before Biden was set to speak Wednesday afternoon.
For the last 25 years, all revenue from the federal gas tax has gone to the Highway Trust Fund, the major source of federal funding for highways, roads and bridges. Manchin noted Congress put an additional $118 billion into the fund when it passed the bipartisan infrastructure package.
“Now, to do that and put another hole into the budget is something that is very concerning to me, and people need to understand that 18 cents is not going to be straight across the board — it never has been that you’ll see in 18 cents exactly penny-for-penny come off of that price,” Manchin said.
Biden is expected to call on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax, which amounts to roughly 18 cents of gasoline and 24 cents per gallon of diesel through the end of September. Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee took issue with the timing ahead of the fall midterm elections.
“My other would be the political ramification. It goes off at the end of September. Which politician up here is going to be voting to put that 18-cent tax back on a month before the November election? So, we just dig the whole deeper and deeper and deeper,” Manchin said.
He added, “we have an infrastructure bill for the first time in 30 years that we can start fixing roads and bridges, but electric vehicles have to pay proportionally also as they use the same roadways and vehicles. They’re not. They’re paying nothing. So, we need a lot of adjustments made.”
Manchin called on Congress to start thinking about Americans in their home districts, insisting “the people in West Virginia are having a hard time — they really are — these inflation checks have hit hard no matter how many checks we sent out during the COVID relief that’s all forgotten it’s all for not,” Manchin said.
“We put over $5 trillion out into the marketplace and it’s all forgotten and all we have now is higher inflation and really more hardship on people that need some good decisions here in the Congress. We just need to start looking at the long-term effect of what we are doing and how we are doing it,” he said.
Other Democrats skeptical, too, while Republicans not interested
Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said it’s important to provide relief, but contends a gas tax holiday is a “temporary only” solution.
“Long term, it’s going to be an expensive infrastructure investment, which I support,” Durbin said. “We’ve got to get this behind us.”
But for Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, a key Democrat negotiator on the roughly $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed last year, the hit that a gas tax holiday would take to the Highway Trust Fund, and therefore the nation’s infrastructure spending, is concerning.
He said he’s “hesitant” about supporting a gas tax holiday. He also cited concerns about the president’s proposal to end the holiday in September.
“I want to make very clear if we were to take this action — its easy to take away this tax its hard to put one back on,” Warner said.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said he’s “willing to support” Biden’s gas tax holiday call but doesn’t know whether it will get the support it needs to pass the Senate.
And with even some Democrats sour to the idea, the president is unlikely to make up support with Republicans.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, in floor remarks Wednesday morning, called the proposal an “ineffective stunt to mask the Democrats’ war on affordable American energy.”
The second-ranking Senate Republican echoed that.
“I think a lot of things being suggested by the administration are very gimmicky, short term, and I wonder if they would have any real impact,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said. “This stuff is clearly political gimmickry it’s not the right long-term solution.”