Democratic lawmakers want to suspend federal gas tax to combat rising prices

Some Democratic senators on Wednesday called for suspending the federal gas tax for the remainder of the year to help consumers struggling with rising fuel prices.

The legislation from Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire could prove popular during an election year in which the average price of gas nationally, according to AAA, exceeds about $3.45 a gallon and could go higher during peak driving season. Four other Democratic senators quickly signed on as co-sponsors. Still, the bill faces an uphill fight to become law.

Kelly said gas prices are putting a strain on families that need to fill up the tank to get to work and school.

The federal gas tax has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. The money goes into a trust fund that helps pay for highway construction projects and public transit. The bill would require the Treasury Department to transfer general funds into the trust fund to make up for the lost gas tax revenue and keep the trust fund solvent, likely requiring additional borrowing.

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"We need to continue to think creatively about how we can find new ways to bring down costs, and this bill would do exactly that, making a tangible difference for workers and families," Hassan said.

The bill also would require the Treasury Department to monitor whether oil and gas companies are passing along the savings to consumers and encourages the department's secretary to take enforcement actions to ensure they do.

While any price reduction would be a relief, gas is up more than a dollar a gallon compared to one year ago. If passed, the bill would save consumers 18.4 cents per gallon, suspending the amount of the tax through the remainder of 2022.

The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas Sunday was $3.47, up 27 cents from a month earlier and 98 cents from a year earlier.

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Crude oil prices continue to increase, and gas prices are expected to jump another 10 to 15 cents in the coming weeks.

"Unfortunately, with oil prices being as high as they are, it’s unlikely that we’ll see any significant relief in prices at the pump anytime soon," AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said.

Over the years, lawmakers have visited the idea of suspending the gas tax but did not generate enough support to get their bill over the finish line. Legislation introduced last year in the House has support from some Republicans. It seeks to suspend the gas tax until all emergency health orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted or for six months after the bill is enacted into law, whichever is longer.

Back in November, Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would ask state lawmakers to temporarily "zero out" the state's gas tax, which would reduce the price by 25 cents a gallon.

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He wasn't the first Florida politician to pitch temporarily reducing gas prices either.

A week earlier, Congressman Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who are running to be the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, separately tossed out the idea of a "gas tax holiday."

Crist also suggested President Joe Biden tap into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help alleviate pump prices.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.