Alexander Bolton – “Democrats Propose Gas Stamps”

Democrats Propose Gas Stamps

Alexander Bolton | September 13, 2008

As the U.S. economy teeters on the brink of recession, Democratic leaders are revisiting an idea born of the Great Depression: gas stamps to help Americans cope with high fuel prices.

The proposal to subsidize fuel costs for lower-income families and individuals would almost certainly be popular with white, working-class voters and could boost Barack Obama’s appeal with that critical voting bloc in this year’s presidential election.

Democratic lawmakers and their leaders say they are serious about including it in a second economic stimulus package expected to move this month. Meanwhile, Republicans ridicule the idea as a return to welfare-state politics, which they say characterized the Democratic Party before Bill Clinton.

“It’s certainly under consideration,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told The Hill on Thursday afternoon. “It would be like food stamps for those people who need help.”

Gas stamps would work like traditional food stamps, which some Americans have collected since the 1930s. They would be used, however, to pay for regular unleaded instead of meat and potatoes.

Under one version of the proposal, a person earning up to $31,200 or a family of four earning up to $63,600 could receive government payments totaling $500 for gas.

Hoyer said he was not ready to discuss details about the proposal because he is focused on passing a comprehensive energy bill Democrats unveiled this week.

Sens. Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican presidential nominee, said last week they would favor Congress passing another stimulus package in light of the national unemployment rate reaching 6.1 percent, its highest level since 2003.

Democratic strategists say gas stamps could help Democrats appeal to rural and exurban voters and may tip swing states to Obama. Rural voters have been hit particularly hard by high gas prices.

The idea for fuel stamps was first proposed by maverick Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Income Security and Family Support subcommittee, who remembers his family using gas stamps when he was a boy during World War II.

“If you had to drive to work, you got to buy more gasoline than if you just drove your car on the weekends,” he said of the wartime policy.

McDermott, who introduced the idea before the August recess, said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made favorable mention of gas stamps Wednesday during an afternoon caucus meeting on a pending energy bill.

He said the mechanism for giving money to Americans at the pump has yet to be designed. He suggested that state and local governments could design stamps or perhaps a credit card that would give people a discount each time they fill up their cars or trucks.

A Republican leadership aide panned gas stamps as a bureaucratic government solution to a problem that would be best solved by allowing oil companies to expand offshore drilling.

“We don’t need a top-down government program, we need to unleash the potential of the American people by allowing increased production of American energy,” said Michael Steel, spokesman to House Republican leader John Boehner (Ohio). “This is a classic example of top-down, centralized bureaucracy that Washington represents.”

But some Democratic strategists think that gas stamps could help Obama and other candidates appeal to voters in rural and exurban areas, a demographic that leans toward the GOP.

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said that the presidential election will likely come down to “2 or 3 percent of the electorate in a handful of battleground states” and that working-class men and women from rural and exurban areas could decide the results.

“High gas prices disproportionately impact working people who tend to live in areas that require them to drive more to get to where they work,” Lehane said. “To me, this is one of those issues to talk about to a key demographic group [Democrats] need to talk to this election.”

Rep. John Larson (Conn.), vice-chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said gas stamps have become more popular among lawmakers in recent days.

“That has caught people’s attention,” said Larson, who added the stamps would “distribute something to assist middle- and low-income people.”

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee who played a big role in negotiating the pending Democratic energy bill, said he favors the idea.

“I’ve heard talk about it,” said Green, who said it would help residents of his Houston district. “We pay high prices and we don’t have a wealthy district.”

Democratic leaders are expected to take up a second economic stimulus package after they push the energy bill through the chamber.

Democratic leaders are also considering increased infrastructure spending, heating assistance for low-income Americans, Medicaid assistance for state governments and extended unemployment insurance, Hoyer told reporters Tuesday.

Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 7:48 PM  Leave a Comment  

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