Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XXV: John Kerry's Support For That Gas Tax

One of the more annoying species of political commenter can be the type who purports to take a careful look at exactly what the candidates are saying, finds "distortions" and plays the voice of reason in a "plague on both your houses" huff. If real "distortions" are, in fact, located, such a commenter is valuable. But where the "distortions" are solely the consequence of the commenter's own spin, the effect is distinctly discordant and distracting.

Alan Murray, writing in the Wall Street Journal, hits several such sour notes:

The 2004 presidential campaign already has set records for abandoning civility. Last week, it seemed to be abandoning reality as well. The Bush-Cheney campaign spent the week attacking John Kerry's 50-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax. It ran grainy black-and-white television advertisements in battleground states ridiculing the idea as "wacky." ...

Problem is that Sen. Kerry hasn't proposed, never voted for and doesn't support a 50-cent gas tax. ....

The origins of the attack are a Boston Globe article, written a decade ago, about a report by the nonpartisan "Concord Coalition" which left Sen. Kerry off its "honor roll" for deficit reduction. An enterprising reporter by the name of Jill Zuckman, now at the Chicago Tribune, cornered Sen. Kerry in the U.S. Capitol to get his response. He was irritated at being left off the list and said the Concord Coalition's grading didn't accurately reflect "my $43 billion package of cuts or my support for a 50-cent increase in the gas tax." Neither Ms. Zuckman nor Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition, are aware of exactly when or where Sen. Kerry expressed his support for this tax increase. The strange episode might be seen as further evidence of Sen. Kerry's desire to be on all sides of every issue. But it's a huge stretch to suggest he currently supports a 50-cents-a-gallon tax.

But the only problem with Mr. Murray's critique is that the Bush-Cheney ads (at least the ones I've seen and what's on the website) don't suggest that Senator Kerry currently supports a 50-cents-a-gallon tax. What the ads and the website say is:

"He [Kerry] even supported raising taxes on gasoline 50-cents a gallon."

The Bush ad does not say that Kerry now supports such a tax, or voted for or personally proposed a bill that would have imposed such a tax. The ad is in fact part of the famous series arguing that Senator Kerry has been a flip-flopper through his career - who, on many topics, once supported that which he now denounces - not that he has been consistently in favor of new gas taxes or anything else for that matter. It is highly relevant to many voters that Senator Kerry once supported such a very large gas tax increase. Mr. Murray probably knows all that - but finds it convenient to ignore it for purposes of this article.

That Senator Kerry once supported such a gas tax (even if he doesn't now) is relevant - just as it is relevant that the in 1986 Mr. Cheney supported higher oil import taxes (which would likely have led to gas price rises) to promote reduced dependency on foreign oil - when he represented a Congressional district that depended on oil revenues. Mr. Cheney's tariff would have been imposed only on foreign oil, - where the tax Senator Kerry supported was to be imposed on all gas consumption. It's for the voter to decide which one (if either) is significant to the voter's decision. But reducing dependency on foreign oil has many supporters. Indeed, the old Cheney position may be awkward for Senator Kerry, since it will raise the question whether the Senator now supports an increased tariff on foreign oil. Indeed the post below quotes the Economist magazine's criticism of the Senator's current energy program: He [Kerry] called for the impossible goal of energy independence for America. How does the Senator propose to accomplish that without a big foreign oil tax boost?

And it's not just the Bush campaign or an old Globe article that points a finger at Senator Kerry, again contrary to Mr. Murray's insinuation. The Globe recently editorialized (as noted by the Viking Pundit):

DEMOCRATIC presidential candidate John Kerry is stepping gingerly away from a proposal he floated several years ago to raise the federal gasoline tax by 50 cents. With average prices at the pump spiking at $1.73 per gallon and President Bush mocking the idea at campaign rallies, Kerry has been quick to note that he never voted for any such tax and upon reflection thinks it is a bad idea.

Neither Kerry nor his office even now denies the Globe story - or his support in 1994 for such a tax. And There have been reports that Kerry actually wrote to the Globe with this proposal. The Globe is still clearly sticking to its story, and the Journal owes its readers a bit more than Mr. Murray's off-hand dismissal.

And it's not just the Globe - as the Bush campaign site also notes these:

Kerry Position Unpopular. [Sen. John] Kerry said he proposed nearly $50 billion in cuts last year and backed a politically unpopular 50 cents per gallon gas tax. (Andrew Miga, "Criticism By Tsongas Irks Ted K, Kerry"; Boston Herald, 3/2/94)

Gas Tax Measure Introduced By Sen. Chuck Robb (D-VA). Robb's 1993 legislation would have imposed an "additional tax on motor fuels"; by a "50-cent increase over the next 5 calendar years," which is accomplished by 10 cents a gallon in each calendar year. The bill had no co-sponsors and never made it to a floor vote. (S. 1068, Introduced 5/28/93)

Kerry isn't to my understanding saying that he never supported the Robb bill. We're not necessarilly talking votes or formal proposals here. Indeed, Senator Kerry's 1994 admission to his "support for a 50-cent increase in the gas tax" in that comment to the Boston Globe seems to have been a reference to the Robb bill. If it wasn't a reference to the Robb bill - where is the Kerry explanation?

Here's the Herald article (if the Herald objects, I'll take it down):

HEADLINE: Criticism by Tsongas irks Ted K, Kerry



WASHINGTON - Ex-presidential hopeful Paul E. Tsongas struck a raw nerve with Massachusetts' two senators, ranking them among the three biggest spenders in the state's congressional delegation.

Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) spokeswoman assailed the ratings by The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan budget watchdog group co-chaired by Tsongas, as badly flawed and misleading.

'(Kerry) was disappointed that Tsongas would engage in this type of sick political gamesmanship,' said Kerry aide Alex Marks. 'It's gamesmanship that plays into the silliest politics in the Senate.'

Tsongas' gave his Senate successor, Kerry, and ex-colleague Edward M. Kennedy flunking grades of 29 percent and 22 percent, respectively, for their 1993 votes on several deficit-cutting bills.

'When those numbers came out, my heart was in my throat,' said Tsongas, noting that only Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Springfield), with 19 percent, ranked lower in the delegation. 'But clearly, Congress has to do better.'

Freshmen Reps. Martin Meehan (D-Lowell) and Peter Blute (R-Shrewsbury) tied for the top ranking with 89 percent each. Kerry was stung by his poor grade from Tsongas, an ally. He won Tsongas' Senate seat in 1984, and supported Tsongas' 1992 White House run.

Kerry said he proposed nearly $ 50 billion in cuts last year and backed a politically unpopular 50 cents per gallon gas tax. Kennedy also protested, arguing that the survey's budget votes - including a 4.3-cent gas tax, block grants, Social Security tax increases - were arbitrary and misleading.

LOAD-DATE: March 08, 1995

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