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Manchin, Justice weigh in on federal gas tax holiday idea

CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin told a national news outlet Wednesday he was not supportive of a three-month federal gas tax suspension proposed by President Joe Biden, while Gov. Jim Justice said a gas tax holiday doesn’t solve the problem long term.

The White House announced Wednesday a three-month freeze of the federal gas tax beginning in July and ending in September. The tax is 18 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24 cents per gallon of diesel fuel.

Revenues from the federal gas tax go into the Highway Trust Fund. According to the White House, Biden believes that $10 billion in additional federal dollars can be diverted to keep the Highway Trust Fund whole during the three-month holiday.

The Biden administration placed the blame for higher gas prices on the Russian war on Ukraine driving up the cost of crude oil prices. According to MarketWatch, crude oil prices Wednesday afternoon sat at around $106 per barrel.

“… in this unique moment, with gas prices near $5 a gallon on average across the country, President Biden is calling on Congress to suspend the gas tax for three months — until the end of September — to give Americans a little extra breathing room as they deal with the effects of Putin’s war in Ukraine,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The White House pointed to efforts by Biden to help reduce the cost of gasoline, including releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, encouraging oil producers and refineries to increase output, and even working with Saudi Arabia to increase production.

“President Biden understands that a gas tax holiday alone will not, on its own, relieve the run up in costs that we’ve seen,” the White House said. “But the President believes that at this unique moment when the war in Ukraine is imposing costs on American families, Congress should do what it can to provide working families breathing room.”

Pausing the federal gas tax will require congressional action, but it may already be doomed from the start. In the U.S. Senate where Republicans and Democrats have a 50/50 split, any proposal will need to get the support of Manchin, D-W.Va. According to quotes to ABC News and confirmed by his office, Manchin said he was not ready to throw his support behind a gas tax holiday.

“I’m not a yes right now, that’s for sure,” Manchin told ABC News. “It goes off at the end of September. Which politician up here is going to be voting to put that 18-cent tax back on a month before the November election? So, we just dig the hole deeper and deeper and deeper.”

Biden also called for states to also provide some kind of relief to motorists, including suspending state gas taxes. The White House pointed to efforts in Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Colorado, Michigan, and Minnesota. But in West Virginia, the idea of a gas tax suspension– even for 30 days — has been a no-go for state Republican leaders.

Democratic lawmakers started pushing for a 30-day holiday of the state’s 35.7 cent gas tax in March, with Republican legislative leaders and Justice remaining cold to the idea and skipping a chance to add a gas tax holiday bill to the April special session. Justice briefly reconsidered his position on a gas tax holiday at the beginning of June, but after Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, held firm, Justice said a gas tax holiday would be “dead on arrival.”

Speaking Wednesday during his virtual briefing, Justice put the blame for higher gas prices on the Biden administration’s attitude towards fossil fuels. Biden set a goal last year for the U.S. to be carbon-neutral by 2035.

“The Biden administration moved in and cut everyone off at their knees, whether they are coal producers, gas producers, or oil producers or whatever it may be,” Justice said.

“Now we’re going to come with a federal gas tax holiday … and throw us a teeny, little bone? That’s all it is: it’s just nothing.”

According to AAA, gas prices sat at $4.90 per gallon, down slightly from $4.93 per gallon last week, but up from $4.46 per gallon a month ago.

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