Dem plan to suspend the gas tax faces bipartisan pushback

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A plan by a group of Senate Democrats, many of whom face tough reelection bids, to suspend the gas tax amid high energy prices is facing bipartisan pushback, underscoring the uphill climb to passing the legislation.

Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Raphael Warnock (Ga.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), who are all up for reelection in November, as well as Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Jacky Rosen (Nev.) introduced legislation to suspend the approximately 18-cents-per-gallon tax on the fuel until the start of 2023.

But the idea is getting pushback from GOP senators, whose support the legislation would need to ultimately pass, as well as some Democrats who are signaling early skepticism.

"I think it's just a clearly transparent political move to try and give political cover to a handful of Democrats that are up in states this year where gas prices are going to be a big issue," said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

"That's kind of a quick go-to - we'll wave the gas tax for a while - that has all kinds of longer-term ramifications for the highway trust fund, and it also doesn't address the fundamental issue, which is a supply chain issue," Thune added.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) added that a temporary suspension of the gas tax also is "not anything that addresses the bigger problem."

"My view the bigger problem is we need to be producing more of our here, rather than relying on it for others," Murkowski added.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the Biden administration and Democrats are discussing suspending the gas tax through the rest of the year, with the White House telling the Post that "all options are on the table." Senate Democrats also discussed the idea during a closed-door caucus lunch on Tuesday as they home in on so-called kitchen table economic issues with an eye on the midterm elections.

"We are focused on getting costs down, and you're going to see a lot of activity in March ... from us on that issue," Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

Schumer added that Democrats are having a "caucus discussion" on the gas tax but said that "we haven't yet taken a caucus position on it."

The group of Senate Democrats, rolling out the bill last week, touted the plan as helping provide economic relief to American families, who are also seeing the cost of goods and services driven up because of historic levels of inflation.

"This bill will lower gas prices by suspending the federal gas tax through the end of the year to help Arizona families struggling with high costs for everything from gas to groceries," Kelly said in a statement.

But the idea has drawn pushback from some of Kelly's Democratic colleagues.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) warned that suspending the gas tax "just doesn't make sense" because it could negatively impact federal highway funds.

"People want their bridges and their roads, and we have an infrastructure bill we just passed this summer, and they want to take that all away," Manchin said.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also warned against taking away infrastructure funds.

"As somebody who got my butt beat as governor of Virginia trying to expand transportation funding, I'd be very averse to taking away infrastructure funding even in the short term," he told reporters.

Rachel Franzin contributed.