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Campaign ’04: Putting It In Context

2 minute read

A periodic look at the charges being made against the presidential candidates–and the facts behind them

THE CHARGE: “He supported a 50¢-a-gallon gas tax. If Kerry’s tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year.” –AD FOR GEORGE W. BUSH attacking his opponent on energy issues

THE CONTEXT: The Bush campaign bases this charge on 10-year-old statements in the Boston press in which Kerry discussed the potential deficit-reducing merits of such a tax. Soon thereafter, however, he renounced the idea. In fact, his campaign says Bush’s top economic adviser supported a 50¢ gas tax as recently as 1999. Assuming you still accept the Bush campaign’s contention that Kerry is an unreconstructed gas taxer, what about the $657 figure? Given the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Energy Department, it’s a little high. There are about 109 million households consuming a total of 382 million gal. The “correct” charge per family would work out to about $640.

THE CHARGE: “Bush gas-tax hike costs Americans $24 billion more.” –THE JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN, in a campaign statement released publicly on March 30

THE CONTEXT: George Bush has not, in fact, raised the gas tax. As a candidate, Governor Bush vowed to lower it, but he has not yet introduced any decrease. Kerry is trying to blame Bush for record-high gas prices, now more than $2 a gallon in California, but a President has limited short-term tools for steering energy markets. The Kerry campaign reached the $24 billion figure by calculating that gas prices have increased about 24¢ since the beginning of the year, and each penny increase results in consumers paying an additional $1 billion a year (a standard Energy Department assumption). Americans would pay $24 billion more this year if the average price for the entire year remains so much higher than the January prices, but energy markets are volatile generally, regardless of who is President.

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