Some Lawmakers Want to Halt Gas Tax Amid High Inflation. Others See a Gimmick: Some Democrats look for ways to counter surge in pump prices for consumers squeezed by broader inflation pickup

WASHINGTON—A push by some Senate Democrats to suspend the federal gasoline tax is running into opposition from both Republicans and other Democrats, presenting a challenge to the nascent attempt to reduce rising pump prices that have worried the White House.

Sponsored by several Senate Democrats who face competitive re-election races this fall, the legislation would halt the tax of roughly 18 cents a gallon for the rest of the year. The highest rate of inflation in decades poses a political problem for Democrats trying to hold their control of the 50-50 Senate, and supporters see the measure as a quick way to try to reduce costs faced by many Americans.

Average national gasoline prices are up by about $1 a gallon from a year ago, according to AAA, contributing to a broader surge in inflation on items from groceries to furniture to cars.

“It’s a pretty obvious thing to do,” said Sen. Mark Kelly (D., Ariz.), who is leading the effort with Sen. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.) and discussed the issue with other Senate Democrats at a lunch meeting on Tuesday.

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PREVIEW SUBSCRIBE President Biden said Tuesday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could further raise energy prices, adding that he would work with Congress on legislation to reduce gasoline prices without detailing his preferred policies. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that “all options are on the table” but declined to weigh in on suspending the gas tax.

Legislation suspending the gas tax would likely require bipartisan support to pass as either a stand-alone bill or part of a broader package, and lawmakers have raised a number of concerns about the idea, including how much it would cost the government and whether it would meaningfully reduce the price consumers pay.

“I think it’s a gimmick,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.). The Biden administration should address gasoline prices by encouraging more U.S. energy production, he said: “Otherwise it’s just coincidentally a reprieve between now and after the election. I think anyone can look at that and see it for what it is.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said suspending the gasoline tax is one of many things the Democratic Caucus is looking at to reduce costs. PHOTO: JIM BOURG/REUTERS Mr. Biden’s economic advisers have privately discussed a gas-tax holiday, people familiar with the conversations said, but some have raised doubts that it would be an effective way to lower prices.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Democrats were still discussing the issue.

“We’re having a caucus discussion on it,” he said. “We haven’t yet taken a caucus position. But it’s one of many things we’re looking at in terms of reducing costs.”

Lawmakers such as Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.) expressed concerns about a gas-tax holiday, but Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) said he backed the idea.

“I’ve always thought it was a very regressive tax and I’m planning to support Sen. Hassan and Sen. Kelly,” Mr. Wyden said.

The legislation from the group of Senate Democrats would task the Treasury Department with ensuring that oil companies pass the tax break along to consumers, a logistical challenge at best. The bill would also direct the Treasury to backfill the lost revenue from the tax cut with money from the general fund to prevent a shortfall in highway funding.

“It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not going to change anything,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), raising concerns about the fiscal impact of the tax cut. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonprofit group that advocates deficit reduction, estimated that suspending the gas tax for the rest of the year would cost the government about $20 billion.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) said a gas-tax holiday might provide momentary relief but wouldn’t address the bigger problem. PHOTO: SARAH SILBIGER/BLOOMBERG NEWS Gas-tax holidays emerge occasionally as a populist-sounding economic-policy idea, including in the 2008 presidential campaign, when Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain both backed the concept. Democrat Barack Obama, who went on to win the presidency, opposed the idea, calling it a gimmick.

Changing the tax on gasoline wouldn’t necessarily address the broad-based inflation voters are experiencing now, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was then an adviser to Mr. McCain and opposed the idea internally before defending it. With the national average price near $3.50 a gallon, an 18.4-cent cut doesn’t amount to much and can be swamped by broader changes in global oil markets.

“Even if everything broke your way, it’s tiny,” he said.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) said one issue with suspending the gas tax is that lawmakers would later have to reinstate it.

“The problem is when you bring it back on, and people are like, Wait a minute, why is the price of gas so high here?” Ms. Murkowski said. “So it’s something that, while it might give you momentary relief, it’s not anything that works to address the bigger problem.”

Some Democrats are also skeptical of giving oil and gas companies a potential benefit as the party seeks to curb carbon emissions.

“They’re experts in bad behavior and in screwing consumers and in corrupting Congress and in polluting our world, so I want to be very careful about what I give them,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.).

The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group for the oil-and-gas industry, said it supports policies that would incentivize domestic production but didn’t comment directly on the gas-tax proposal.

“While policy makers seem to recognize the impact of rising energy costs on American families, some continue to turn to short-term fixes that aren’t likely to provide lasting relief for consumers,” said Frank Macchiarola, a senior vice president of the trade group.

—Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.

Write to Andrew Duehren at and Richard Rubin at

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8 Appeared in the February 17, 2022, print edition as 'Bid to Pause Gas Tax Faces Opposition.'