FLASHBACK: Before Bidenflation, Media Championed High Gas Prices

News & Politics

One reason Joe Biden’s presidential prospects are wilting before our eyes: angry voters disgusted by the worst inflation in more than 40 years. As of Wednesday’s CPI report, the cumulative increase in overall prices since Biden took office has been a crushing 20%, but the jump in the cost of gasoline has been twice as bad. In January 2021, the average price at the pump was $2.39 a gallon; as of yesterday (June 15), it’s at $3.45, an increase of 44%.

But these upsetting prices would have been even worse if liberal journalists had their way, as reporters repeatedly lobbied in favor of massive increases to the already-high federal gas taxes. Right now, the average motorist pays roughly 51 cents a gallon in combined federal (18.4 cents) and state taxes (32.44 cents), or about 15% of the total cost of $3.45/gallon. That’s far higher than the tax on other consumer products, even in the states with the highest rates (most states have sales tax rates between 4% and 7%).

Yet the liberal media have long advocated even higher prices for gasoline, seeing it as a potential cash windfall for the federal government, and as a club to punish drivers who insist on using fossil fuels. Back in 1989, for example, Time magazine demanded a 50 cent/gallon increase in the federal gas tax, which would put today’s prices at nearly $4.00/gallon.

One of their writers, Andrew Tobias, was even more extreme, suggesting in 1993 that a proposed onetime 4.3 cent/gallon increase be made “per year,” and “forever.” If the government had listened to Tobias back then, today’s gas prices would be more than $1.10/gallon higher.

Time’s advocacy in the 1980s and 1990s was so pronounced, the MRC’s MediaWatch newsletter awarded the magazine its “Janet Cooke Award” in February 1993 for demanding higher gas taxes a whopping 24 times in just four years.

The media’s appetite for high fuel taxes has continued in recent years. In 2007, CNN’s Frank Sesno equated leadership on climate change with “a tax on carbon emissions to spur investment and move the marketplace. Expensive? You bet. Trillions and trillions.

In 2011, veteran reporter Carl Bernstein mouthed the media’s conventional wisdom on this topic on MSNBC’s Morning Joe: “Have a gas tax in this country. We could solve a lot of economic problems if we raised the gas tax.”

Most preposterously, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman reacted to the deadly Boston Marathon bombing with a tone-deaf pitch for higher taxes: “We need to redouble our efforts to make America stronger and healthier….And the best place to start is with a carbon tax.”

Obviously, one reason liberal journalists like the idea of tax increases is their allergy to any cuts in federal spending (or even smaller-than-planned increases), invariably painting them as heartless and an attack on poor people. But their remedy of higher gasoline/carbon taxes would also hit lower-income families especially hard, because fuel costs account for a significantly higher percentage of their budget.

The media’s ardor for higher gas taxes has been less evident since the public’s revolt against the high gas prices of the Biden era, but expect it to resurface when it the political climate shifts. After all, journalists have been determined advocates for higher taxes and higher pump prices for many decades, as these quotes from the MRC archives demonstrate:

■ “Raising the federal gasoline tax by 50 cents per gallon, from 9 cents to 59 cents, over the next five years would renew drivers’ interest in fuel conservation.”
— One of Time magazine’s recommendations on how to save the Earth, in January 2, 1989 “Planet of the Year” issue.

■ “The federal gasoline tax should be increased substantially — to at least 60 cents per gal., from the current 9 cents per gal., over the next four years. At the same time, the government could begin setting up a program to tax the use of all fossil fuels.”
— Correspondent Eugene Linden in the December 18, 1989 edition of Time magazine.

■ “It’s time we got smart….This latest threat [Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait] makes it clearer than ever that American must finally kick the habit, freeing us from this awful dependency. There are several cures, but the fastest and surest is a 50-cent federal tax on every gallon of gas at the pump, phased in over five years.”
U.S. News & World Report Editor-at-Large David Gergen, August 27/September 3, 1990 issue.

■ “Increase taxes on gasoline and other fuels….Each penny-per-gallon increase in the gas tax would generate $1 billion in new revenues — and would also encourage energy conservation, cut down pollution and traffic congestion, and reduce the U.S. trade deficit. A good start would be an increase of 25 cents per gal. — less than the amount by which prices rose during the Gulf War — with further increases of five cents a year.”
— One of Time’s suggestions for a tax package, December 9, 1991.

■ “A 12-cent additional tax on gasoline would yield $54.8 billion in five years. (It would have the added benefits of discouraging auto use and cleaning the air.)”
Time Washington Bureau Chief Stanley Cloud, June 22, 1992.

■ “Norway has an admirable environmental record in other respects. The U.S., for instance, might follow its example and implement a carbon tax, which encourages efficiency and the use of cleaner fuels….If there is anything positive in this pastiche of cumbersome, expensive, and irrelevant initiatives, it is the trend championed by the Republican predecessors to move away from regulations and toward market incentives (hint: a gas tax!) to achieve environmental goals.”
Time Senior Writer Eugene Linden, February 1, 1993.

■ “While jacking up the gas tax might make good economic and ecological sense, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon.”
Time Associate Editor John Greenwald, February 15, 1993 issue.

■ “The real story is the proposed gas tax is far too low…There’s only one problem with the 4.3 cents-per-gal. gas tax the Senate has proposed: it’s too little…Where it says 4.3 cents, they should add two words: a year. And maybe a third word: forever.”
Time “Money Angles” columnist Andrew Tobias, July 26, 1993 issue.

■ “You also have said that we have to have bold ideas for energy independence, and your theme is ‘courage to change.’ Just about every expert on energy says the best way to become energy independent is to raise the price of oil and gas, to have a serious energy tax. Why not call for it?…Couldn’t we become independent much more quickly if we had the kind of energy tax you see in Europe?”
— ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to Democratic presidential candidate Tom Vilsack on This Week, December 3, 2006.

■ “What if the world took climate change seriously?…Leaders would have to lead, and make some unpopular decisions — incentives, subsidies and, yes, taxes, including a tax on carbon emissions, probably, to spur investment and move the marketplace. Expensive? You bet. Trillions and trillions.”
— CNN’s Frank Sesno on The Situation Room, May 10, 2007.

■ “Have a gas tax in this country. We could solve a lot of economic problems if we raised the gas tax….We’re not serious as a country…because, again, you’d have a gas tax if we were.”
— Author and ex-Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, March 9, 2011.

■ “Until we fully understand what turned two brothers [Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev] who allegedly perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombings into murderers, it is hard to make any policy recommendation other than this: We need to redouble our efforts to make America stronger and healthier so it remains a vibrant counterexample to whatever bigoted ideology may have gripped these young men….And the best place to start is with a carbon tax.”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, April 21, 2013, talking about the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and injured more than 200.

■ “If I got to ask one question of the presidential aspirants at Thursday’s Fox Republican debate, it would be…‘Would you agree to raise the gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon today so we can pay for our highway bill?’…It cuts to the core of what is undermining the Republican Party today and, indirectly, our country: There is no longer a Republican center-right that would have no problem raising the gas tax for something as fundamental as infrastructure.”
New York Times writer Thomas Friedman in an August 5, 2015 column, “My G.O.P. Debate Question.”

■ “One of our political parties is completely insane and it’s the party that, when we have mine disasters, blocks mine regulations. It’s the party that says, when we want to fix our roads, you can’t have an infrastructure bill, you can’t raise the gas tax.”
Esquire’s Charles Pierce on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, October 1, 2015.

You can read more examples from our flashback series, the NewsBusters Time Machine, here.

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