Obama Dismisses Gas Tax “Gimmick”

With primaries in North Carolina and Indiana less than a week out, Barack Obama seems to have taken Streetsbloggers’ advice with this ad explaining why a suspension of the federal gas tax, as called for by Hillary Clinton and John McCain (among others), is a sham. It’s a masterful spot: the swelling orchestral score, the shots of everyday North Carolinians nodding in agreement as the candidate links the lie of the "short-term quick fix" gimmick to the need for fundamental change in Washington.

But Obama doesn’t go all the way here. Though he does call for Americans to reduce fossil fuel consumption, he suggests doing it by raising efficiency standards, substituting oil with unspecified alternative fuels, and giving the middle class a $1,000 tax cut for good measure. The word "transit" never comes up no matter how many times you watch. Believe me.

On the trail, however, Obama is talking up passenger rail. After the jump, an excerpt from a Politico pool report filed after Obama and wife Michelle met with the Fischer family in Beech Grove, Indiana. Cheryl, 52, is a hospital technician. Mike, 53, is a machinist for Amtrak.

The Fischers consider themselves a "rail family," with generations of family members working at the same shop.

Mike Fischer, who is a member of the machinists union, explained his situation: He said Amtrak is planning to layoff 77 workers. He could be impacted. He could be given an option to take a job in Chicago or Wilmington, Del., which mean moving away from their children and grandchildren.

"What do they offer if you decided not to go?" Barack Obama asked.

"Unemployment," Mike Fischer said.

Barack Obama suggested the Fischers contact their members of Congress.

"You guys should talk to Evan Bayh to find out what the situation is," Barack Obama said. "The irony is with the gas prices what they are, we should be expanding rail service. One of the things I have been talking bout for awhile is high speed rail connecting all of these Midwest cities – Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis. They are not that far away from each other. Because of how big of a hassle airlines are now. There are a lot of people if they had the choice, it takes you just about as much time if you had high speed rail to go the airport, park, take your shoes off."

He continued to talk up Amtrak.

"This is something that we should be talking about a lot more," Obama said. "We are going to be having a lot of conversations this summer about gas prices. And it is a perfect time to start talk about why we don’t have better rail service. We are the only advanced country in the world that doesn’t have high speed rail. We just don’t have it. And it works on the Northeast corridor. They would rather go from New York to Washington by train than they would by plane. It is a lot more reliable and it is a good way for us to start reducing how much gas we are using. It is a good story to tell."

So why not tell the story, Senator? Get Mike and Cheryl Fischer to talk about our country’s rail heritage, and an entire industry left to rot as we subsidize foreign governments to keep Big Oil in windfall profits. Bring the music up as you tell the people how rail can again be the backbone of our nation’s transportation system, creating thousands of jobs while building a cleaner, greener America. Now that would be some real truth.

  • d

    In an ad like this, I’m glad Obama didn’t mention public transit. The ad hits all of the right notes. It may be easy for New Yorkers or those of us interested in livable streets to suggest that more emphasis is put on transit, but for a lot of the country it’s not an option right now and doesn’t help someone get to work for less money tomorrow. If he had mentioned public transit, imagine what his opponents would have done. “I want to give you money in your pocket,” they would have said. “And my opponent wants you to take the bus.” It would be exploited and manipulated to no end.

    As long as Obama is mentioning transit in longer speeches, and he is as you point out in this post, I see no reason why this ad in particular has to mention it. I think people can fill in the blanks when he talks about long-term solutions rather than gimmicks.

    I think the ad is a masterful work of political genius: for the first time, a politician has run an ad saying what he WON’T do, rather than fill 30 seconds with empty promises. He’s essentially saying, “My opponents think people are stupid, but I know that Americans are too smart to be fooled by a few bucks back over the summer.”

  • jobs

    he could however talk about the millions of green collar jobs that would be created by encouraging the auto industry to retool and make buses, light rail cars and trains. If WWII is any indication, this retooling could happen within a few years.

  • There is absolutely no question that Obama would be the best candidate for transit. None. Zero.

    What we’ll get from Clinton or McCain is the same bad policy, more pandering crap.

    Obama shows real leadership that is completely refreshing. To quibble “But Obama doesn’t go all the way here” given the night and day contrast two the other two candidates does us all a disservice. I’d think we’d be praising the man from the rooftops for his courageous stance on this issue.

    Just sayin.

  • ddartley

    Okay, I give up restraining myself from going so off-topic from Streetsblog’s usual subjects: I have always hoped for Obama to win the 08 nomination.

    Diplomatically, it’s very important that the U.S. elect someone who was PRE-war antiwar. I see that as the only way we get the international cooperation we’ll need in getting out of Iraq without guaranteeing we leave chaos behind. In fact I see it as the only way we get out at all, and stop the hemorrhage of money and blood. In Clinton (and McCain), other countries–friends and our not-so-friendly acquaintances–see someone who said YES to this war, which most of the world knew would be a globe-upsetting disaster. Only if the U.S. rejects such candidates will the rest of the world pitch in on Iraq, I think. Defense Sec. Gates himself has recently said stuff about our own NATO allies that makes me confident in my speculation.

    Will any national-level politician totally satisfy NYC-area livable streets types any time soon? But it’s nice that Obama happens to be the best on those issues.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (In an ad like this, I’m glad Obama didn’t mention public transit. “I want to give you money in your pocket,” they would have said. “And my opponent wants you to take the bus.” It would be exploited and manipulated to no end.)

    Agreed.

    I can’t see the ad, but I hope it mentions that gasoline prices are up from $1.50 to $4.00, and the solution is to cut transportation investment by giving you back 18 cents.

    He really ought to make hay with this, not back away, because “gas tax cut” and “windfall profits” and “gouging” have been repeated over and over. Where has it got us?

  • Shemp

    Also agree with d. It would just be ridiculous messaging to suggest to the population of North Carolina that switching to transit is at all viable.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You know what’s best about it?

    If Obama does win the nomination, when the general election rolls around McCain’s gas tax suspension would have been over!

    So Obama could hammer him on that — his energy policy would have expired, and “you’d be no better off than before right now, just like you are worse off after 20 years of pandering to some people’s desire for the cheap & easy.”

    McCain usually doesn’t go in for this kind of BS, which is why the pols show him competitive, even in NYC, when Republicans overall are about as popular as they were in 1932. That’s why I don’t think it was “shrewd.” J6P isn’t as clueless everywhere as in NY.

  • Spud Spudly

    Hard core Clinton superdelegate switches sides, cites Obama’s gas tax stance as one reason:

    http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D90CUR1O0&show_article=1

  • d

    One year ago, gas was about 63 cents lower per gallon than it is now, so an 18 cents per gallon break won’t do much, unless you only started noticing high gas prices in the last week or so.

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/wrgp/mogas_home_page.html

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Wrong Larry, McCain OFTEN does this sort of stuff, its really his MO if not his PR.

    But ddartley’s sentiment “I have always hoped for Obama to win the 08 nomination.”, jeesh. I’m afraid is not good enough for me. He has to actually win the fucking election. If he is not going to, I’ll take Clinton. Supporting a principled loser is not an option in this election.

    McCain is far the worst despite what his “base” in the press thinks. For many reasons, from war and torture to transit. But this stuff is entirely predictable and his positions have been horrible over the years coming as he does from the gas powered flatlands. He has fought AMTRAK for decades from when Tom Downs had the temerity to ask for $0.02 per gallon of the gas tax for AMTRAK. Had that money been provide back then AMTRAK would be expanding and improving service not laying people off, and who would have really been worse for it.

    It has been a wonderful opportunity for him to distinguish himself from Clinton, finally something of substance besides the war. He could use it to counterpoint a lot of arguments linking foreign policy, environmental policy, labor policy and economic policy. I hope he does and I hope it works.

    But really this falls into the category of his campaign thinking a lot of the electorate, especially the new voters just signing up in this election cycle. I don’t share his optimistic view of the electorate and their good angels. If he loses NC because of the NASCAR dads, he will be in worse shape and so will we.

  • 2Cents

    Obama gets NC and Oregon
    Clinton takes Indiana and the rest

    No on gas tax costs Obama a handful of swing voters. Others he wasn’t getting anyway

  • If Obama does win the nomination, when the general election rolls around McCain’s gas tax suspension would have been over!

    If gas tax “holiday” comes to pass, I’d bet it’d be an endless summer. No one’s going to move to bring the gas tax back in an election season.

  • Mark Walker

    As a non-driver, I can view the gas-tax holiday only with glee. Gee, you mean one of the financial supports for highways is about to be kicked away? Broken axles? Lots and lots of new tolls to make up the difference? Bring it on!

  • JF

    Sadly, Mark, the lower gas-tax revenue will not result in less money for roads:

    McCain spokesman Brian Rogers emails First Read, “Sen. McCain believes that general revenue transfers should be made to offset the impact on the transportation fund.”

    Fuck that. I’m not having my general taxes subsidize some North Carolina drivers.

  • JF

    By contrast, Clinton would tax the oil companies to make up the lost revenue.

    Mrs. Clinton said at a rally on Monday morning in Graham, N.C., that she would introduce legislation to impose a windfall-profits tax on oil companies and use the revenue to suspend the gasoline tax temporarily.

    And of course the oil companies aren’t going to raise their prices to make up for those taxes. Here’s a nickel for you to replace the one I just took out of your pocket. Don’t you want to vote for me?

  • Spud Spudly

    Apparently Obama’s proposing an even larger windfall tax on the oil companies:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aP_1wrIyt1Nc

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Sorry Brothers and Sisters its even worse than what you guys say. The gas tax also pays for mass transit, eliminating it will fulfill one of Weiner’s jeremiads concerning the intentions of the Bush administration transportation policy and congestion pricing.

  • I asked the Weiner staff to reconcile his call for a higher federal gas tax with his support for Clinton, and for his position on this ridiculous tax “holiday”.

    Still waiting for a substantive response.

    Given that Weiner sandbagged CP with the promise of higher Federal gas taxes, he can not remain silent on this issue.

  • william j. leitold

    lET’S TALK ABOUT THE OVERPRICED TRANSPORTATION UNION JOBS; WHAT IS THE TOTAL ANNUAL COMPENSATION OF THIS RAIL WORKER? IN NYC WE’VEW GOT PEOPLE WHO PUNCH TICKETS ON THE LONG ISLAND RAILROAD MAKING $150K PER YEAR AND THEY NEED A POLITICAL REFERAL TO GET THAT JOB. SO RAIL GET VERY EXSPENSIVE VERY FAST ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU START INCLUDING OUT OF CONTROL PENSIONS WITH HEAVELY SUBISDIZED EARLY RETIRMENT WITH FULL HEALTHCARE. AS FOR EXSPANDING OUTSIDE OF THE NORTHEAST, YOU’D HAVE TO BE NUTS OR A RERIREE WITH A VERY FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE TO TAKE A TRAIN FROM DC TO CHICAGO. BUT ALL OF THIS WOULD GIVE THE POLITICAL CLASS A WHOLE LOT OF PATRONAGE, OH I FORGOT THAT’S WHAT THE CHICAGO DALY MACHINE RAN ON. ISN’T CHICAGO MR. OBAMA’S HOME TOWN? WHAT A SURPRISE AND I THOUGHT HIM ABOVE THE USUAL POLITICS.

  • JF

    Oh yeah, that’s a great argument, William: unsubstantiated claims of corruption, so let’s not build any rail. What do you propose instead, build more roads? I’m sure there’s no corruption there!

  • I have to point out that caps-lock was engaged at the second letter. Interesting technique.

    I wonder if highway workers get good health care? They certainly need it.

  • Sorry, William, socialist dreamland is now occupied by the trucking industry:

    http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2008/04/truckers-call-for-cap-on-fuel-prices.html

  • The gas tax probably needs to be raised from $0.18 cents per gallon to $18.00 per gallon. That’s the true social and economic cost of the stuff. Why is America so far behind?

    Anyhow, I know many people who in the past two weeks have switched their affiliations from Clinton to Obama because of this single issue.

  • What’s Obama doing this weekend? Biking:

    “We’ve been going at a pretty fast clip. I intend to take the weekend off and I’m going to take my wife out on a date. I hope to go on a bike ride with my kids,” Mr. Obama said.”

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