President Joe Biden said Monday he hopes to make a decision soon on whether to back a temporary federal gas tax pause and is poised to make a decision on student loan relief as he seeks to ease the burden of high prices for Americans.
“I’m hoping to have a decision based on the data I’m looking for by the end of the week,” Biden told reporters by the seashore in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, when asked if he was considering to support a gas tax exemption.
Such a break in the federal tax of 18.3 cents per gallon would require Congress to act, and so far the idea has garnered little interest among lawmakers. But the administration is eager to find areas of relief for U.S. consumers struggling with soaring gasoline prices at the start of the summer. Monday’s national average for gasoline was just under $5 a gallon.
Biden said he’s also considering whether to support sending gas discount cards to Americans: “That’s part of what we’re looking at, that’s part of the whole operation,” said Biden. he declared.
And asked if he was about to decide to cancel student debt, fulfilling one of his campaign promises, Biden replied, “Yes.”
The array of options currently being discussed in the White House reflects the behind-the-scenes urgency to find ways to mitigate soaring costs for Americans. Biden implored his team to look for areas where he is taking action to reduce financial burdens as the price of gas, food and other goods soar.
Also under consideration: relaxation of certain tariffs on China, which could lower the cost of certain consumer goods.
The White House has previously played down the prospect of sending gas rebate cards directly to Americans because the program would be difficult to administer. But Biden seemed to indicate the idea was still in play, refusing to rule it out to reporters on the beach.
High prices and the prospect of a recession threaten Biden’s presidency, threatening Democrats’ political prospects in November’s midterm elections.
Yet as the waves crashed near Rehoboth, Biden played down the risk of a recession as the Federal Reserve hikes interest rates in an attempt to tame inflation.
Several lawmakers and governors have floated the idea of a gas tax exemption, encouraging Biden to support the idea. Others, including some Democrats, were more skeptical. And the idea has yet to gain traction in Congress, where a bill is pending but has not yet been put to a vote.
Over the weekend, the US energy and treasury secretaries each said it was a valid option, but not a panacea for high gas prices.
“That’s one of the tools,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“That’s definitely one of the things the president values,” she added. “I know this is happening in many states as well. Honestly, the whole toolkit is always in a hurry. He’s used the biggest tool he has, but he’s obviously very concerned about this continued upward pressure on prices.
She said the challenge of temporarily suspending the tax of about 18 cents per gallon was that she was “funding the roads.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also said over the weekend that a gasoline tax holiday was “certainly worth considering”.
The administration’s so far lukewarm approach to supporting a federal gas tax suspension reflects concerns from some Democrats that it may not provide meaningful relief, particularly if retailers raise the price of gas. basis per gallon to make up the difference.
“I am not a supporter of the gas tax exemption. I think it’s kind of a gimmick, and ultimately you have to reverse it,” Larry Summers, President Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
As it happens, Biden told reporters a day later that he spoke that morning with Summers, who criticized the administration for its approach to inflation and warned that a recession may now be inevitable. .
“There is nothing inevitable about a recession,” Biden insisted.
Biden said he was confident in congressional action reducing Medicare and insulin costs — two items currently being negotiated — as well as new investments in renewable energy.
He said top oil and gas CEOs would meet with members of his administration this week to discuss pricing “so I can get an explanation of how they justify making $35 billion in the first quarter.”
But he ruled out meeting the executives himself: “No.”
And he criticized companies for cutting refining.
“I want them to explain to me why they aren’t refining more oil,” he said.