05/13/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Clinton, Obama Battle Over 'Gas Tax Holiday'

Both of the would-be Democratic nominees found themselves all over the morning shows today, and the small-bore issue of a "gas tax holiday" continued to loom large in the conversation, with Clinton standing in support of the policy and Obama hitting back against it.

The two appeared in rapid succession on the Today Show, and this matter ended up being the central issue each discussed. Senator Hillary Clinton, naturally, was unable to explain how inducing demand for a finite commodity would not, in this one instance, lead to the price of that commodity increasing, as one learns in basic economics, so she talked up the angle of how she proposes to "pay for it," whatever that means.


VIEIRA: Let me talk to you about suspending the gas tax, because there's apparently no economist that says that it's a good policy. And let's say you're asked if you could name a single credible economist that supports you, and you said "I'm not going to put in my lot with economists." You call that elite opinion. Are you saying if you were president, you would not seek the counsel of any economist?

CLINTON: Oh, no, of course not, Meredith. But you know, I know very well that they're worried about it not being paid for, but I have proposed a way to pay for it, and that is --

VIEIRA: But they're saying it's not a good idea. They're not worrying about that, they're saying it's not sound policy.

CLINTON: No, I disagree with that. I fundamentally disagree with that, and you know, it's something that I have looked at before, and I did not believe we should do it unless we could pay for it. But throughout this campaign, I have said we've got to take on the oil companies. They've been given so many tax breaks. I voted against Dick Cheney's energy bill in 2005 that gave them even more. My opponent voted for it. What we've got to start doing is standing up for Main Street.

By comparison, Senator Barack Obama faced a far chummier and accomodating form of interrogation from Matt Lauer, but Lauer did manage to pose the question of the gas tax in the weirdes way possible, asking "What's wrong with even a little relief, even if it's largely symbolic to ease in a minor way the financial and perhaps even more in a major way the emotional strain that some people are feeling right now?" Maybe it was because the question was so inane that Obama briefly and incorrectly referred to Lauer as Tim Russert.


LAUER: Let's talk about gas prices, and you've been critical of Senator Clinton for her call to end or ease the federal gas tax for at least the summer months. I think you've called it a gimmick and pandering and said that it really won't bring much relief. I'm just curious, what's wrong with even a little relief, even if it's largely symbolic to ease in a minor way the financial and perhaps even more in a major way the emotional strain that some people are feeling right now?

OBAMA: Well, Tim, first of all, it's not me who's criticized these proposals. There is not a single economist or editorial that I've read that says that this is a good idea, and the reason is, is because it's not being honest with the American people. People don't need symbolic relief, they need real relief, and if you're saying that you're going to at best provide 30 cents a day for three months for a grand total of $28, but in fact, it's likely that the oil companies, when that gas tax is suspended, in fact, the gas companies just raise their rates by the same amount, so they are the ones who end up benefiting, that's not real relief, and I know, because we tried this in Illinois, and that's exactly what happened. The retailers and the gas companies did fine. Consumers didn't see it. And so we stopped the program.

LAUER: I just want to say, I know you've had a very long week, and so have I. You're saying Tim. It's Matt Lauer. But believe me, I completely understand --

OBAMA: Matt, I'm sorry.

LAUER: We've both had a long week, believe me.

OBAMA: I apologize.

Critically, the one person who's left out of this conversation - and the scrutiny - is John McCain, the candidate who proposed this idiotic idea in the first place.