Jonathan Alter: Why Gas-Tax Holiday Won't Work

Hillary Clinton has joined John McCain in proposing the most irresponsible policy idea of the year: suspending the federal gas tax this summer. Both of them know it's a terrible pander, and yet they're pushing it anyway for crass political advantage. The goal is to depict Barack Obama as an out-of-touch elitist, by any means necessary. I could highlight a long debate among economists on suspending the gas tax, but there is no debate. Not one respectable economist supports the idea, unless they are official members of the Clinton or McCain campaigns. For relief at the pump, try tax credits—but not this. Why is the gas pander so bad? Let's count the ways:

• It's a direct transfer of money from motorists to oil companies. If the federal excise tax were lifted, oil companies would simply raise prices and pocket most of the difference. Clinton's proposal to recover the $8.5 million with a windfall profits tax on oil companies sounds nice but won't happen. Besides, she already committed that money to developing renewable energy.

• It offers taxpayers only peanuts. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says the average savings to motorists would be $30. That measly number was somehow not included in Clinton's explanation of her support.

• It sends more hard-earned money to the Middle East, which is terrible for our national security. Remember, 15 of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia. How did they get the terrorist training? Oil money.

• It makes it more likely you'll have a car accident or waste even more time in traffic. The proceeds from the gas tax go for highway construction and upgrades. Because the tax was last raised 15 years ago, our infrastructure is a mess, with potholes and dangerous crossings practically everywhere. Thousands of repair projects will be further delayed.

• It will cost 300,000 construction jobs, according to Transportation. Which makes it kind of ironic when Clinton starts her rallies saying she wants "jobs, jobs, jobs."