More than half of the members of a presidential commission have endorsed an aggressive deficit-cutting blueprint that includes a proposed 15¢-per-gallon boost in the federal gasoline tax. Eleven of 18 National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform members voted for the wide-ranging plan, but that was three votes short of the 14-member supermajority needed for formal approval.
Still, commission members who gathered on Dec. 3 in a Senate hearing room for the voting session were optimistic that the plan, contained in a final report titled “The Moment of Truth,” would have an impact on future federal budget debates.
One panel member who voted for the report, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), said although the final report did not win 14 yes votes, that “should not be an indication that there is not powerful support behind this plan and the need for Congress to engage.”
He said the 11 votes are a signal the deficit-reduction recommendations could win the majority needed to get them approved in Congress.
The commission's plan would trim the deficit by $3.9 trillion by 2020. More than half of that amount would come from cuts in defense and non-defense discretionary spending.
The panel's gas-tax recommendation—boosting the 18.4¢-per-gal levy by 15¢ per gal over 2013-2015's rate—won praise from a group of 21 construction, transportation and labor-union organizations.
Earlier transportation commissions supported a fuels-tax increase; however, on an encouraging note for advocates of the hike, the panel that made the recommendation has a charter that is broader in scope and a roster of members that is more diverse. Still, the real “moment of truth” for the gas-tax proposal—and the rest of the commission’s recommendations—lies ahead.
If the past is any guide, raising the gas tax will be a difficult pull. The levy has not been increased since 1993, as White House administrations and Congress have resisted a boost. So far, that view hasn't changed in the Obama Administration and the current Congress.
With Republicans taking over the House and gaining seats in the Senate in 2011, their general anti-tax stance will make a hike in the fuel levy an even longer shot than it has been this year.
Both parties have talked about paring the federal deficit.
If deficit-cutting policy-makers "take an a la carte ordering approach" and select only some of the recommendations from the commission's menu, that could pose problems, says David Bauer, American Road and Transportation Builders Association senior vice-president for government affairs. "You run the risk of upending the 61% of commissioners who voted for this thing," he says. "It was a delicately crafted package."