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Tax-and-drive Republicans

In a "post-partisan" era, who will lead the political fight for stiff new gas taxes?

by on Jan.21, 2009

Is it time to raise the federal fuel tax?

Is it time to raise the federal fuel tax?

So, when did so many Republicans start sounding like Democrats? I know, I know, President Obama is all about a “post-partisan” America, and it’s not uncommon to hear even the most vociferous political opponents making nicey-nice with each other in the first weeks after an inauguration. But what I’m talking about is a serious, seemingly heartfelt transformation by some of the auto industry’s most traditional members of the Grand Old Party. Like Bob Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman. Like Michael Jackson, the CEO of retail giant AutoNation.

No, they’re not going off on gay marriage, or national day care. But they are touching upon one of the traditional “third rails” of American politics, something even the most hard-core “tax-and-spend” Democrats have largely chosen to sidestep, in recent years. And that’s the idea of a stiff, new gas tax.

Go to Europe and a good 80% of what you pay at the pump is tax, as much as $8 a gallon – at the current exchange rate – in some countries, or about 40 times what Americans pay in the federal fuel tax. And the number hasn’t changed in two decades, here at home, even though much of the world has consciously increased fuel taxes in order to discourage demand, promote the sale of fuel-efficient vehicles and, of course, balance their budgets.

There are, of course, plenty of environmentalists who’d like to see the U.S. catch up. But the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Federation aren’t going to move the political needle. If anything, it may take the loyal opposition, and the industrial side of the Republican Party seems to be rushing in to fill that gap.