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John McCain makes gas prices a political issue

April 18, 2008 | 10:22 am

John McCain took a look at the price on the neighborhood gas pump (OK, somebody probably looked for him) and decided a little relief is in order -- so he's introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate that would suspend the federal gas tax for the summer. This is no small thing -- 18.4 cents per gallon for the unleaded most people use, and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel, on which the nation's trucking industry runs (think strawberry prices). The potential consumer savings are huge -- assuming they'd get passed along.

Of course, in the Democratic-controlled Senate the chances of the bill getting through in an election year are slight -- about the same, we'd guess, as the chances of gas falling below $3 a gallon. But this is where it gets fun. Come fall, McCain will be able to say that he tried to do something and the Democrats wouldn't cooperate. He even sent a letter to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- his colleagues in the Senate before they were his rivals for the White House -- asking them to join him.

Shrewd move, that. Lovely placing of the piece on the chess board while Obama and Clinton are still squabbling over who gets to play their side of the board. And the counter-move, if there is one, will likely be pressing McCain on the financing. McCain says he'll replace the lost revenue to the Highway Trust Fund from the general fund -- which is already facing a massive budget gap.

A footnote of interest: One of the cosponsors of McCain's bill is Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee and former Democrat. Technically, he's an independent senator from Connecticut now but is usually included in the vote count that determines the Democrats control the Senate. He endorsed McCain in December, so that bridge is already burned. But it has to be galling to some in the halls of Congress to have their former veep nominee -- Al Gore's running mate -- stumping for the other guy.

-- Scott Martelle

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