Biden backs suspension of federal gas tax, boosting Warnock proposal

A customer pumps gas earlier this month at a station on Peachtree Road. President Joe Biden called for a 90-day suspension of the federal gas tax of 18 cents per gallon, backing a proposal that Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and other Democrats proposed earlier this year. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
A customer pumps gas earlier this month at a station on Peachtree Road. President Joe Biden called for a 90-day suspension of the federal gas tax of 18 cents per gallon, backing a proposal that Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and other Democrats proposed earlier this year. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is advocating for a three-month halt on collecting the 18-cents-a-gallon federal gas tax, lending his support to a plan that U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and others first proposed in February.

“By suspending the 18-cent federal gas tax for the next 90 days, we can bring down the price of gas and give families just a little bit of relief,” the president said Wednesday afternoon at the White House.

Any suspension of the gas tax, which also adds 24 cents per gallon to diesel prices, must be approved by Congress. While Republicans have criticized Biden for not doing more to respond to record-high fuel prices, it is unclear whether there are enough votes in either chamber to support a gas tax holiday.

Conservatives and some Democrats have said gas tax holidays do little to combat the price of gas, which currently hovers near $5 on the national average, while potentially increasing the deficit.

“I have not been a proponent of the gas tax (holiday),” U.S. House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday, according to Punchbowl News. “There’s no guarantee that the sellers, either wholesale or retail, will reduce their prices. And then, of course, we’ve got to backfill (the Highway Trust Fund). I just don’t know that it gives much relief.”

In addition to cutting the gas tax temporarily, Biden is also encouraging states and local governments to suspend their gas taxes, oil companies to maximize output at refineries, and fuel providers to adjust prices at the pump as the cost of oil comes down.

Georgia stopped collecting its state gas tax in March, saving motorists roughly 29 cents per gallon at the pump. Gov. Brian Kemp announced earlier this month that the tax holiday will remain in place until at least mid-July.

Kemp’s opponent in the general election, Democrat Stacey Abrams, has pushed him to extend the holiday through the end of the year.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been cool to the idea in the past, but she issued a statement after Biden’s remarks saying she is open to discussions.

“We will see where the consensus lies on a path forward for the President’s proposal in the House and the Senate, building on the strong bills to lower prices at the pump already passed by House Democrats including the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act and the Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act,” Pelosi said.

Under the White House plan announced Wednesday, Biden echoed language in Warnock’s bill that would require Congress to offset the reduced gas tax revenue with other sources to ensure there is no negative effect on the federal Highway Trust Fund.

“With our deficit already down by a historic $1.6 trillion this year, the President believes that we can afford to suspend the gas tax to help consumers while using other revenues to make the Highway Trust Fund whole for the roughly $10 billion cost,” the statement says.

Warnock introduced his gas tax holiday proposal with five other senators, all Democrats, who either represent swing states or are on the ballot this fall in tough reelection battles. The others in the group are Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Jackie Rosen of Nevada.

Warnock said Wednesday that he was glad the president “finally” endorsed the bill.

“Now that President Biden is on board, it’s time for Congress to move urgently to pass my legislation that will help Georgians keep even more money in their pockets while also holding greedy oil companies accountable,” Warnock said in a statement. “We can’t act fast enough to help Georgians save more of their hard-earned dollars.”

ExploreWhile Warnock’s gas tax holiday stalls in D.C., Georgia passes state law