Bill Clinton Makes Blacks Pay More at the Pump
By Stuart Pigler
With gasoline prices rising to well over two dollars a gallon in the Midwestern United States, America's love affair with the automobile may be headed toward a break-up. But before we ditch our wheels, we should first demand the government get rid of policies helping to drive up fuel prices.
Our biggest roadblock to reforming gas prices is Bill Clinton. Although he says he understands the needs of poor and minority citizens, his energy and regulatory policies hurt the poor and minorities more than any other segment of the population. And he has fought hard to protect these hurtful programs from attempts to repeal them.
We can't just blame the Arabs or the oil companies for gouging American consumers. Much of the problem is the fault of overburdening taxes and government regulations that are driving the price of gas through the roof. Poor and minority consumers are being forced to spend a larger portion of their budgets to handle it than anyone else.
Unlike income taxes that take your money according to how much you earn, sales taxes make everyone pay the same rate. Billionaire Bill Gates pays the same taxes on a gallon of gas as a black single mother in South Central Los Angeles, but the single mom will be spending a substantially larger portion of her budget at the pump than Gates. The fact that so many independent truckers have been forced off the road because they cannot afford to drive proves how bad the problem is getting.
Federal and state gas taxes on a gallon of gasoline now average 43 cents a gallon. In the 1990s alone, gas taxes rose 16 cents a gallon.1 In addition, a federal mandate that gasoline contain the additive MTBE raises the cost by an additional ten cents.2 The Clinton Administration has also signed the United Nation's Kyoto Protocol - to fight the unproven theory of global warming - that could potentially double the future price of gasoline. Congress has so far refused to ratify the Protocol, but the White House is still trying to force government compliance through executive action.
To combat current high gasoline prices, Indiana Governor Frank L. O'Bannon suspended his state's 5% sales tax for the summer.3 In Washington, however, Clinton and his supporters have fought attempts in Congress to repeal the 4.3-cent tax he imposed at the beginning of his presidency. Trying to spin the issue, the White House is blaming the oil companies for high prices. The Federal Trade Commission is conducting a formal investigation of high prices, but there's no denying that taxes and regulations are still an enormous chunk of the cost of every gallon we buy.
In addition to gas tax cuts, another way the government could ease high gas prices is to increase the oil supply by allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Only 2,000 acres of the 19 million-acre refuge4 - just over 0.01% - would be used and it could replace Saudi oil imports for 30 years.5 But the federal government won't allow it.
In 1995, Clinton Administration Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt justified barring drilling in the ANWR, saying, "it doesn't appear that [oil] prices will [be] topping $30 [a barrel] in the foreseeable future. In fact, the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Agency predicts oil prices will be only $19.13 by the year 2000."6 Last March, however, oil prices went over $34 a barrel. Still, the Clinton Administration is not willing to cut people a break by allowing drilling in the ANWR.
Rising prices will also lead to increased prices elsewhere. The trucks bringing goods to market are costing more to run, and this cost will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for clothes, food and other necessities. Once again, it will be the people least able to deal with these price hikes who will be reaching deeper into their budgets just to get by.
Unless the government changes its tune, we can expect to pay a lot more for a lot of things. The Clinton Administration's disregard for the more disenfranchised segments of the population shows that the President favors his policies over real people. So much for feeling our pain.
1 "NTU Calls on Congress, White House, to Enact Immediate 10-Cent/Gallon Cut," Press Release of the National Taxpayer's Union, February 23, 2000.
2 "EPA Follows CEI Advice... 7 Years Late," Press Release of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, March 20, 2000, downloaded March 21, 2000 from http://www.cei.org/PRReader.asp?ID=940.
3 Associated Press, "FTC Opens Formal Probe of Midwest Gasoline Costs," Washington Post, June 21, 2000.
4 U.S. Representative Don Young (R-AK), Chairman of the House Resources Committee, "Plight of Alaska Eskimos Forgotten in ANWR Debate," Arctic National Wildlife Refuge web site, downloaded on March 18, 2000 from http://www.anwr.org/features/eslimos.htm.
5 U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, "Let Alaskan Oil Help the State, Nation," Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2000.
6 Al Kamen, "Incendiary Remarks," Washington Post Magazine, June 11, 2000.
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Stuart Pigler is a member of the National Advisory Council of The National Center for Public Policy Research's Project 21. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.