Obama strikes back

The gas tax holiday won’t help consumers, even a tiny bit, unless the oil companies decide to pass it along in lower prices. Obama asks, “Does anyone here really trust the oil companies?”

Of the arguments against the McCain-Clinton gas tax holiday, the simplest is in some ways the best: cutting the tax refiners pay doesn’t mean cutting the price consumers pay. That’s a stronger argument than “It’s only $30.”

From CBS News :

“Does anyone here really trust the oil companies to give you the savings, when they could just pocket the money themselves? There’s not an expert out there that believes that this is going to work. There’s not an editorial out there that has said this is actually the answer to high gas prices. In fact my understanding is today, Senator Clinton had to send out a surrogate to speak on behalf of this plan, and all she could find was, get this, a lobbyist for Shell Oil to explain how this is going to be good for consumers. It’s a ’shell game,’ literally.”

Update: Here’s the video; the passage is at about the 11-minute mark, but the whole thing is worth watching. To my ear, Obama hasn’t gotten less eloquent as his rhetoric has gotten less high-flown and more specific.

I don’t think any of the reporting on the issue has made the point that the gasoline tax isn’t collected at retail; it’s collected from the refiner. So the Clinton claim that imposing a windfall profits tax instead of a per-gallon tax would mean “making the oil companies pay instead of the consumers” isn’t even technically true. Clinton and McCain are in effect hoping that the tax cut will trickle down to the consumers. But given refinery capacity constraints, that’s not likely to happen.

Update Obama also hit the issue hard at a press conference today, nailing Clinton to McCain and quoting lots of Democrats (Pelosi, Harkin, Hoyer, Patterson) Transcript here.

Second update Looks as if opposing the gas tax holiday won Obama the endorsement of Friends of the Earth Action, the political arm of FoE.

Footnote The Shell lobbyist is apparently Steve Elmendorf, who went on CNN as a “Democratic strategist and Clinton supporter” and explained what peachy-keen plan the tax holiday is. No one mentioned the $100K he billed Shell Oil as a lobbyist in the first half of 2007 alone. According to the Obama folks, his total take from Shell since 2006 has been $420K. Now that’s what I call a “Democratic strategist.”

Second footnote In case you doubted the power of this blog, a reader sent me a note a couple of days ago saying that Obama should ask “Why does Clinton trust the oil companies?” I neglected to post on that, and yet Obama said it just the same. Now that’s power!

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com