Two Days Worth of Standing Against Gas Tax Relief on CNN
Two segments that aired on two days straight on CNN underscored the network’s alignment with those who stand against a gasoline tax holiday during the summer driving season. First, Carol Costello’s segment on Wednesday’s "Newsroom" program used last year’s bridge collapse in Minneapolis to advance the idea that "things like road construction and bridge repair" would suffer as a result of the lost revenues. The following day, on Thursday’s "The Situation Room," host Wolf Blitzer pressed McCain campaign adviser Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, on McCain’s proposal, asking, "So when you say that he would take the money from reserves, in other words, we would go further into debt to pay for this tax break?" During the interview, a chyron or graphic on the screen claimed, "Saving on Gas Could Cost You: Whether to Suspend Fed Gas Taxes."
Costello’s segment, which aired 45 minutes into the 2 pm Eastern hour of Wednesday’s "Newsroom," began by comparing the tax holiday to a Christmas present. "For cash strapped consumers, any reduction in gas prices would be like, well, like Santa coming into town early, or so it seemed on the stump." An animated Santa with his sleigh and reindeer flashed across the screen during Costello’s voice-over. After giving a bit background on the tax holiday proposal and playing a clip of McCain touting how nice it would be to pay 18 cents less at the gas pump, Costello quipped almost sarcastically, "Ah, that sounds nice. But Santa aside, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Those federal highway taxes pay for things like road construction and bridge repair, something that was really important just last year, when the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people."
In addition to this bit of fear-mongering, Costello quoted from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, that according to this panel, "both Clinton and McCain's idea would drain the federal highway fund by $3 billion per month, creating a $12 billion shortfall. Not only that, but it would put at risk, 310,750 highway construction jobs." But she conveniently left out the fact that, like all House committees, it is under Democratic control.
The next day, 14 minutes into the 4 pm Eastern hour of Thursday’s "The Situation Room," Blitzer played for Fiorina a clip of Obama at a campaign rally railing against the "Clinton/McCain proposal," and he used the same basic argument that Costello used in her segment, that "it takes money out of the federal highway fund that goes to rebuilding roads and bridges. And without that money, you could have thousands of fewer jobs here in Indiana and our roads and bridges won't be safe."
Blitzer then asked Fiorina about Hillary Clinton’s version of the gas tax holiday. First, he brought up how "Clinton says she was would have a windfall profit tax on big oil to pay for the roads, for the bridges. How is Senator McCain going to pay for the roads and the bridges if this tax -- if this federal tax isn't included between Memorial Day and Labor Day?"
When Fiorina emphasized the savings of the American consumer and how Obama himself supported a gas tax holiday as an Illinois state senator, Blitzer then pressed her on the "windfall profit tax." "But what's wrong with a windfall profit tax? Exxon Mobil today announcing their first quarter profits almost $11 billion. They're raking it in right now.... What do you say? Why not do what Hillary Clinton says, tax them a little bit more? They can certainly afford it better than working-class people..." This began an exchange in which Blitzer hammered away at this point.
BLITZER: They're raking it in at a time when people are going to the gas tank and they're spending $3.50, almost $4 a gallon for unleaded regular. What do you say? Why not do what Hillary Clinton says, tax them a little bit more? They can certainly afford it better than working-class people in Indiana, North Carolina, or elsewhere around the country.
FIORINA: Yes. Well, let's just start with the basic idea that this started with -- give hard-working Americans a break at the pump. Let's go back to that fundamental.
BLITZER: But what's wrong with having it excise -- a windfall profit tax on ExxonMobil.
FIORINA: Probably because Hillary Clinton or Senator Obama would make that tax permanent. And that would distort markets.
BLITZER: Would Senator McCain support a temporary excise -- a temporary windfall...
FIORINA: I haven't had that conversation with him. But I think the most important thing...
BLITZER: Is it something -- as a corporate executive you understand this kind of stuff. What do you think?
FIORINA: I think taxing profits, particularly when the profits of that industry are not out of line, makes less sense right now than, for example, providing those same companies an incentive for, for example, refining.
In his final question on the topic, Blitzer talked strategy with Fiorina. "Are you worried though that politically this could be used to badger Senator McCain in a general election, that he's with big oil, they're against big oil?" In response, she stuck to her talking point, that "hard working Americans need a break. Let’s give them a break at the pump this summer."