Lott wants vote on suspending 4.3-cent gas tax
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Sunday that Congress should "take a look at" suspending a 4.3-cent per gallon federal gas tax passed in 1993 for up to nine months to ease the effect of recent increases in the cost of gasoline in the United States.
"We will have a vote on this issue," he said, "unless something dramatic happens with OPEC." Representatives of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries were gathering over the weekend in Vienna, Austria, for meetings Monday to set new production quotas.
If gas prices exceed $2 per gallon on average nationally, Lott said, he would move to cut the entire federal gas tax of 18.3 cents per gallon. "Four point three or 18.3, next thing you know it is real money," he said.
Surplus might pay for cut
To ensure that money for highway construction is not affected, Lott told NBC's "Meet the Press," the money to pay for the cut should come from the projected federal budget surplus.
A long-term solution, Lott said, would be "to open up our reserves that we have, like the ones off the coast of Alaska."
He said, "We don't have an energy plan for the future. Now we're at the mercy of the same countries we went to war to defend, because they turned off
the spigot or turned it down. People want to know what we're going to do about it."
Price increase slows
Lott dismissed Clinton administration efforts to persuade OPEC countries to increase their production as "tin-cup diplomacy."
Such criticism is unjustified, said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright from Geneva on CNN's "Late Edition." Albright said, "What we've been doing is consulting with the producing countries in order to try to get a way for them to make a decision to stabilize prices that would be suitable for consumers as well as the producers. I think this is the way things are done."
Asked whether she expected prices would be stabilized as a result of the OPEC talks, she said, "Always hopeful, but it's hard to tell."
Gas prices slowed the pace of their recent climb, rising just half a cent in the last two weeks, according to the Lundberg Survey.