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May 1, 2006
When Gas Meets Hot Air

We can now file the $100 gasoline rebate idea into the political remainder bin, as no one appears to want to buy this pandering as policy. While the Democrats have been careful not to directly oppose it -- they claim that it could form part of an overall response to high energy prices -- the GOP's base has busied itself ridiculing it, and rightly so:

The Senate Republican plan to mail $100 checks to voters to ease the burden of high gasoline prices is eliciting more scorn than gratitude from the very people it was intended to help.

Aides for several Republican senators reported a surge of calls and e-mail messages from constituents ridiculing the rebate as a paltry and transparent effort to pander to voters before the midterm elections in November.

"The conservatives think it is socialist bunk, and the liberals think it is conservative trickery," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, pointing out that the criticism was coming from across the ideological spectrum.

Angry constituents have asked, "Do you think we are prostitutes? Do you think you can buy us?" said another Republican senator's aide, who was granted anonymity to openly discuss the feedback because the senator had supported the plan.

Heavens, no -- if they thought we were prostitutes, they'd give us a lot more than $100, and at least the screwing would be honest. Just ask Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

This mess should never have made it off the desk of the political consultants who dreamed it up. The government does not indemnify consumers from normal variations in a commodities market, even when its own policies help to make the situation worse. Giving away $100 rebates only papers over the problem.

Even the structure of it made no sense. The government planned on basing its formula from income tax records, but consumers don't pay for their gas through federal taxes, although we buy a lot of hot air that way. The rebates would not have applied for the lowest-income people, who have been hardest hit by high energy prices. While tax cuts rightly benefit those who pay income tax in the first place, everyone pays gasoline taxes, and everyone therefore should have been eligible for this rebate.

Brit Hume called this proposal "silly". Rush Limbaugh demanded that lawmakers solve the problem instead of buying voters on the cheap. Trent Lott and Lisa Murkowski both appeared yesterday on television, denigrating the proposed rebate.

So who supports it? Bill Frist. And joining Frist is Senator Debbie Stabenow, who wants to up the payment to $500 while opposing one of the solutions to the problem: ANWR drilling.

This is one of the rare moments when the electorate shows maturity and insight. This rebate notion needs to get buried in committee, never to see the light of day. If Congress wants an equitable way to return cash to the pockets of consumers, suspend the federal tax on gasoline for a few weeks. That way it goes directly to the people who consume the product across all economic strata. They can use that time to create a rational process for increased production of domestic energy, including more drilling and more refineries, as well as expedited research into alternative energy production. Instead of buying us off, they can earn their pay.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 1, 2006 6:29 AM

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