Today double standard: Clinton, but not McCain, grilled on gas tax break proposal

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

When Sen. John McCain twice touted the idea of a gas tax "break" during an interview on NBC's Today, Matt Lauer failed to challenge him over whether economists believe a gas tax holiday is a good idea. But when Sen. Hillary Clinton mentioned her proposal "to get the gas tax paid this summer out of the record profits of the oil companies" on the same program a month earlier, Meredith Vieira challenged her, saying that economists are "saying it's not sound policy."

During an interview on the June 11 edition of NBC's Today, when Sen. John McCain twice touted the idea of a gas tax "break," co-host Matt Lauer did not challenge him. By contrast, on the May 5 edition of the program, when Sen. Hillary Clinton mentioned her proposal "to get the gas tax paid this summer out of the record profits of the oil companies," co-host Meredith Vieira interjected: "Let me talk to you about this suspending the gas tax because there's apparently no economist that says that it is a good policy, and yesterday, you were asked if you could name a single credible economist who supports you." Moments later, Vieira added: "[T]hey're saying it's not a good idea. ... They're saying it's not sound policy."

Lauer offered no challenge even though moments before the interview, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell had reported that Sen. Barack Obama "calls" a gas tax holiday a "gimmick" and that "even some Republicans say suspending the gas tax for the summer won't work." Mitchell then aired a video clip of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) saying, "It's pure demagoguery. I mean, John McCain has shown some capacity to understand some economics."

From the June 11 edition of NBC's Today:

[begin video clip]

MITCHELL: On the economy, they have big differences over taxes, government spending, and energy. McCain supports a summertime gas tax holiday, which Obama calls a "gimmick." McCain with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo:

McCAIN: I think you're out of touch with America, I think, when you don't support such a thing. And it was just a break. It was just a break. They need it right now.

MITCHELL: But even some Republicans say suspending the gas tax for the summer won't work.

ARMEY: It's pure demagoguery. I mean, John McCain has shown some capacity to understand some economics.

MITCHELL: And Democrats are trying to portray McCain as out of touch on the economy and the war.

[end video clip]

[...]

LAUER: Gas: $4 a gallon. You know --

McCAIN: Sure.

LAUER: Americans want to know --

McCAIN: Yeah.

LAUER: -- that the next president of the United States, Senator, gets it -- feels their pain. But when it comes right down to it -- when it comes to the price of gas -- is there anything that either you or Senator Obama can do about it if elected president?

McCAIN: I think, clearly, though, we could give them a bit of a break for this summer. I mean, I ran into a guy -- Senator Obama as you noted calls it a "gimmick" -- I ran into a guy recently that owns three trucks -- paying 24-and-a-half cents a gallon for every gallon of diesel. He said, "Senator, that would help me a lot make it through the summer." So, it was just a chance to give low-income Americans an opportunity. But the real key to this is nuclear power, alternate energy. We've got to -- solar, wind, tide, develop batteries. We have to embark on a national mission -- a national mission to become energy independent. Nuclear power has to play a big role in that. Not only for energy independence --

LAUER: So enough of the debate about --

McCAIN: -- but also --

LAUER: -- whether we drill in the wilderness areas 'cause that's still oil, oil, oil.

McCAIN: Yeah.

LAUER: You -- your energy plan will take us away from oil?

[...]

LAUER: And are they doing enough in that area?

McCAIN: No, they're not.

LAUER: We had [ExxonMobil CEO] Rex Tillerson on recently --

McCAIN: No, they're not doing enough.

LAUER: -- of ExxonMobil, and we asked for email questions. We couldn't air half of the email questions. They were so upset. People basically saying, "How can you sleep at night? How can you and the other CEOs sleep at night when people are having to choose between feeding their families and filling their tanks?" So is -- are those people reacting out of pure emotion or is there some logic to that?

McCAIN: There's logic to it and emotion to it. I mean, after all, look what's happening to Americans who are on fixed income, particularly low-income Americans. That's why I want to give them a little break by the way. They drive the furthest. They drive the automobiles that use the most gas. I want to give them a little break for the summer. But the point is -- the point is the oil companies have got to be more participatory in alternate energy, in sharing their profits in a variety of ways, and there is very strong and justifiable emotion about their profits

LAUER: Two quick subjects: tax cuts. You've been hammered --

McCAIN: Sure.

LAUER: -- by some on the Republican and Democratic sides about flip-flopping on these tax cuts.

From the May 5 edition of NBC's Today (as re-aired the same day on MSNBC's Verdict with Dan Abrams):

CLINTON: I know that Senator Obama doesn't agree with me. I know Senator McCain is willing to lift the gas tax but not pay for it. I'm willing to figure out a way to get the gas tax paid this summer out of the record profits of the oil companies.

VIEIRA: But, Senator, let me ask you about the gas tax.

CLINTON: That is the beginning of trying to stand up to the oil companies, which is something we need to do.

VIEIRA: Let me talk to you about this suspending the gas tax because there's apparently no economist that says that it is a good policy, and yesterday, you were asked if you could name a single credible economist who supports you, and you said this. You said, "I'm not going to put in my lot with economists." You called that elite opinion. So, were you saying if you were president, you would not seek the counsel of any economists?

CLINTON: Oh, no, of course not, Meredith. But you know, I know very well that they're worried about it not being paid for, but I have proposed a way to pay for it. And that is to begin what we must do in this country --

VIEIRA: But they're saying it's not a good idea. It's not even worrying about that. They're saying it's not sound policy.

CLINTON: Well, I -- no, I disagree with that.

Posted In
Economy, Taxes
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Matt Lauer
Show/Publication
Today Show
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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