All of a sudden there's some daylight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on an everyday pocketbook issue. She's for a summer-long fuel tax holiday; he says suspending the federal per-gallon tax would be shortsighted.
The Democratic presidential candidates are in a high-octane chase for North Carolina's 115 pledged delegates in Tuesday's primary election. But on the tax holiday idea they're both eating John McCain's dust. Earlier this month the Republican nominee-in-waiting urged a halt in federal fuel taxes (18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents on diesel) from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
McCain's proposal, however, was widely panned -- with good reason. Lowering pump prices this way would simply accelerate demand and the need to import oil. Plus, fuel tax receipts help fund road and bridge repairs. ... Countless Americans, rightly suspicious of oil companies, fear that any tax cut would be followed, in the blink of an electronic sign, by an offsetting price hike.
Three candidates, three different stances. All fueled by frustration at high prices (which are mainly a function of the record price of oil on world markets), political calculation and -- let's hope -- an underlying realization that energy policy, at least once election season is over, is more complicated than this.
In the longer run, conservation and energy independence, which all three candidates tout, depend on consistent price signals to consumers, producers and innovators. Tax policy should encourage diversified energy supplies and efficiency. The fuel tax holiday plan does neither. It is short-term and sends the wrong signal.