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How Vulnerable Dems Used Legislative Gymnastics To Pretend They Were Against New Taxes

Sen. Maggie Hassan reintroduced Republican measure to cut tax from Dems' climate bill—but doomed amendment with 60-vote threshold

Clockwise from top left: Democratic senators Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), and Raphael Warnock (Ga.) / edited from Getty Images
• August 10, 2022 2:00 pm

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A group of vulnerable Senate Democrats led by Maggie Hassan (N.H.) spiked a Republican-backed amendment that would eliminate a tax on oil from Democrats' Inflation Reduction Act, but later proposed an identical measure they knew would fail—an apparent attempt to appear moderate while supporting the Democratic leadership's agenda.

Senators Hassan, Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), and Raphael Warnock (Ga.) on Saturday voted against an amendment proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) that would cut the bill's tax hike on crude oil—causing the amendment, which only needed 51 votes to pass, to fail in a 50-50 party-line vote. Hassan just hours later proposed her own amendment to nix the bill's crude oil tax but raised the measure as a budget point of order, dooming the amendment to fall short of its now-60-vote threshold.

The two proposals both would have eliminated a provision that would nearly double the tax on all imported crude oil and petroleum products to pay for new environmental cleanup efforts. The tax hike, which remains in the legislation, will likely lead to a further increase in energy prices—a bad sign for Democrats like Hassan who are up for reelection this November. Polling shows that voters are far more concerned with high gas prices than they are with climate change.

Hassan's actions were part of a larger scheme from the Senate's Democratic leadership that allowed vulnerable senators to appear moderate as they voted against popular GOP measures, Roll Call reported on Sunday. The four senators also voted against a Republican-sponsored amendment to extend the Title 42 immigration restriction, only to propose a near-identical amendment that needed 60 votes, allowing the lawmakers to back the measure without risking its approval.

Graham, who proposed the failed amendment to cut oil taxes, said Hassan's move to propose an identical amendment "gives phony and cynical a bad name."

"What you're doing is deceitful, it's dishonest, and we're gonna call you out," the senator said Sunday on the Senate floor.

The Democrats' voting scheme proved effective: Politico reported that Hassan's oil tax proposal gained bipartisan traction, omitting any mention that the Democratic senators spiked Graham's identical proposal. The Hill, meanwhile, focused its coverage of the amendment vote on how the Senate's presiding officer, Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.), issued Graham a warning for impugning the motives of a fellow senator.

The Inflation Reduction Act, which the Senate passed on Sunday after Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote, funnels $370 billion in taxpayer dollars to counter climate change and lower prescription drug costs. The bill, which is set to pass in the House, gives an additional $80 billion in taxpayer dollars to the IRS to hire as many as 87,000 additional employees—making the agency larger than the Pentagon, State Department, FBI, and Border Patrol combined, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Hassan has touted her "bipartisan" record—including her support for "fiscal responsibility"—as a key component of her reelection campaign message to appeal to her state's significant chunk of independent voters. Hassan, who faces a competitive reelection battle in November, in one campaign ad says she is "taking on members of my own party to push a gas tax holiday" and "pushing Joe Biden to release more of our oil reserves."

As a senator, Hassan has voted with Biden's agenda 96 percent of the time. As governor of New Hampshire, she signed into law a gas tax increase in 2014.

Andrew Mahaleris, the New Hampshire communications director for the GOP, said Hassan "has spent millions of dollars in false television advertising claiming that she's taking on the Biden administration, just to turn around and vote in lockstep with his failed tax-hiking agenda."

"In the middle of a recession, Maggie Hassan voted for a tax increase on nearly every citizen of New Hampshire, a fact that Granite Staters won't forget in November," Mahaleris told the Free Beacon.

Hassan's office did not respond to a request for comment.