And a bill co-authored by Sens. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Mark Kelly of Arizona, who are being targeted by Republicans as they run for re-election this year, appears to be gaining some traction with their Senate Democratic colleagues.
The Hassan/Kelly bill, which they titled the Gas Prices Relief Act, would scrap the 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax through the rest of 2022 and calls for the Treasury Department to make sure the savings are passed on to consumers rather than the oil and gas companies.
And the measure, if passed into law, would also require the federal government to transfer money into the Highway Trust Fund, which is used for road construction and maintenance and supporting mass transit, to make up for the lost revenues.
"This legislation is about making sure that we get Granite Staters relief at the gas pump. People are feeling a real pinch on everyday goods, and we must do more to help address rising costs, particularly the price of gas," Hassan said last week in a statement introducing the bill.
And Kelly, noting the "strain on families who need to fill up the tank to get to work and school," emphasized that "this bill will lower gas prices by suspending the federal gas tax through the end of the year to help Arizona families struggling with high costs for everything from gas to groceries."
The new bill was quickly co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who along with Hassan and Kelly hail from general election battleground states and are also viewed by the GOP as vulnerable in November’s midterms. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Jackie Rosen of Nevada also signed onto the legislation.
The announcement by Hassan and Kelly came the day before new federal government figures showed consumer prices surging last month to their highest levels in four decades.
The unrelenting impact of inflation comes with nine months to go until November’s elections, when the Democrats hope to retain their razor-thin majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
Democrats are facing historical headwinds – the party that wins the White House traditionally suffers setbacks in the ensuing midterms – and they’re facing a brutal political climate compounded by the president’s flagging approval ratings. Partially fueling the adverse conditions and the consistent decline in President Biden’s standing among Americans has been the steep rise in consumer prices as the nation’s economy rebounds after being flattened by the coronavirus pandemic.
Poll after poll shows that inflation is a top concern among Americans. And for eight months, Republicans have been blaming the massive government spending bills, that were passed first under then-President Donald Trump and over the past year under Biden, for fueling the rise in prices. And they’re using inflation as a campaign weapon against Democrats running for reelection this year.
The Hassan-Kelly bill is expected to be discussed on Tuesday afternoon as the Senate Democratic conference gathers for their weekly policy lunch.
"For the past few weeks, I've heard from my colleagues about a number of proposals they've been working on aimed squarely at helping Americans better afford the basics," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said ahead of the meeting." Democrats will use our weekly caucus lunch to talk more about some of the ideas my colleagues are working on."
The temporary scrapping of the gas tax is an idea that some leading Republicans have also suggested.
Among them is GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who's pushing to suspend his state's gas tax for five months this summer and fall. But his proposal is facing resistance from top leaders in Florida's Republican dominated legislature."
But the Hassan-Kelly bill was quickly criticized by some of the Republican candidates hoping to face off in November's midterms against the Democratic senators.
"Real leadership would have been not spending trillions of dollars in the first place and causing prices to skyrocket!" Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, one of the leading GOP Senate contenders, argued.
And New Hampshire Senate president Chuck Morse, one of the three Republicans running this year to take on Hassan, claimed that "all this does is kick the can down the road – this is a phony gimmick that won’t lower gas prices; more supply will. We need to produce more American energy."
National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) spokeswoman Katharine Cooksey Noyes told Fox News that "you don’t ask an arsonist to put out a fire, and American families shouldn’t ask Senate Democrats to curb rising prices."
"Democrats like Mark Kelly, Maggie Hassan, Raphael Warnock, and Catherine Cortez Masto have spent their entire time in the Senate passing trillions in reckless spending that has made everything more expensive," Cooksey charged. "If these Senate Democrats really cared, they wouldn’t have approved Biden’s reckless spending spree in the first place."
But the NRSC's counterpart, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), argued that GOP opposition to the bill will backfire.
"Senate Democrats are fighting to address working families’ top concerns head on — and the fact that GOP Senate candidates are opposing this Democratic effort to cut gas prices is not only bad policy, it’s idiotic politics," DSCC communications director David Bergstein charged.