During a non-election year, Washington Democratic senator Patty Murray called a federal gas tax holiday a "bad idea" that may not lower prices at the pump. Now that she's up for reelection, she's on board with the plan.
Murray—who is expected to face Republican triage nurse Tiffany Smiley in November—quietly signed on to Senate Democrats' gas tax suspension bill in late April, more than two months after it was introduced. But in 2008, when Murray was not embroiled in a reelection fight, the Democrat called the policy a "bad idea" that would "deteriorate highway funding."
"She has a firsthand look at what's going on with our transportation systems, our roads and our bridges, and from her perspective, this is a bad idea," then-Murray spokeswoman Alex Glass told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at the time. "There's no guarantee that the plan would result in lower gas prices, but it would deteriorate highway funding."
Murray is far from the only prominent Democrat to express past disapproval toward a gas tax suspension, which President Joe Biden says would "bring down the price of gas and give families just a little bit of relief." In 2008, then-senator Barack Obama—Biden's self-described "best friend"—called the move a politically motivated "gimmick." Many congressional Democrats agree. Oregon congressman Peter DeFazio, for example, said a gas tax holiday would not "give consumers significant relief—if any at all" and would instead "blow a $26 billion hole in the highway trust fund" and kill "tens of thousands of jobs."
Murray has not explicitly touted her decision to sign on to Democrats' gas tax suspension bill. Instead, she vaguely claims to be "fighting to deliver results" at the gas pump. Murray has, however, stressed the need to "modernize" Washington's roads and fund electric vehicles. The Democrat did not return a request for comment.
Gas prices have more than doubled since Biden took office. The national average price for a gallon of gas was $2.39 in January 2021. Now, it's $4.90, according to AAA. Should Biden convince Congress to enact a gas tax holiday, the move would hardly help American consumers. The president's plan would suspend the 18-cent federal gas tax on each gallon of gasoline, saving the average consumer roughly $5 a month, according to GasBuddy. That move would cost roughly $3.3 billion a month, the White House claims.
Murray joined the Senate in 1993 and has not faced a competitive reelection bid in more than a decade. That could change this year as Democrats navigate a difficult political climate under Biden. Just 40 percent of Washington voters approve of the president, compared with 49 percent who disapprove. Biden won the state by nearly 20 points in 2020.