MSNBC's Barnicle misrepresented Obama's comments about gas tax holiday, overstated savings

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

On Hardball, Mike Barnicle said of Sen. Barack Obama's reaction to Sen. John McCain's proposal for a summer gas-tax holiday: "[P]oliticians have got to be very, very careful when they tell people living right at the margin, right at the edge, that $30 a week isn't a whole lot of money." But what Obama has said of McCain's proposal is that "[i]t would save you a total of about $28 for the entire year" -- not "$30 a week" -- and several analyses support Obama's claim.

During the June 30 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle said in reference to Sen. John McCain's proposal for a summer gas-tax holiday that "it's a high-wire act for [Sen.] Barack Obama -- and he's been walking it, sort of, and he might fall off it." He added, "Bogus? Fine. Short-term solution? No problem understanding that. But politicians have got to be very, very careful when they tell people living right at the margin, right at the edge, that $30 a week isn't a whole lot of money. It's a huge amount of money for a lot of people in this country." Host Chris Matthews responded, "Right." But what Obama has said of McCain's proposal is that "[i]t would save you a total of about $28 for the entire year" -- not "$30 a week" -- and analyses by the Tax Policy Center, PolitiFact.com, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) support his claim.

McCain has called for a "Summer Gas Tax Holiday" that would "suspend the 18.4 cent federal gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day." A May 2 New York Times article quoted Obama commenting on the gas tax holiday proposal:

"Listen, these gas prices are brutal on people," Mr. Obama told voters Thursday in Columbia City, Ind. "Now, John McCain decided that he would solve this problem after being in Congress for 25 years by suspending the gas tax for three months. What that would do is save the average driver 30 cents a day -- a nickel and a quarter, 30 cents a day. It would save you a total of about $28 for the entire year -- $28."

On May 2, the Tax Policy Center's Eric Toder wrote, "If a gas tax holiday drives the price down by the full amount of the tax (18.4 cents), the average driver would save about $28 ($27.67) between June 1 and September 1. But we think the price would fall by only a small fraction of the 18.4 cents tax -- so instead of $28, the average driver might save $5 to $10." He continued, "Here's how we get the $28 figure:"

Average annual per vehicle gas use (from AAA) = 550 gallons

Percent of annual miles drive in June, July, and August = 27.4. Calculated from data in 2001 National Household Travel Survey.

Multiply 550 x .274 = 150.6 gallons consumed in summer months.

At 18.4 cents per gallon, this comes out to $27.71

In a May 5 fact check, PolitiFact.com wrote, "Obama's statement that a gas tax holiday 'would at best provide 30 cents a day for three months for a grand total of $28' is in line with estimates we have for average fuel consumption. The back-of-the-envelope calculation is clearly based on a few assumptions, but the assumptions are reasonable. We rate his statement Mostly True."

In a May 2 release, AASHTO said, "If the gas tax suspension did go into effect, experts estimate that the typical motorist would save $28 dollars for the summer, less than the cost of half a tank of gas." The AASHTO added: "What the tax suspension would cost the Federal Highway Trust Fund, however, is nearly $9 billion in revenues. That could be offset through transfers from the General Fund, but that would drive up the deficit by an additional $9 billion. Many question whether jeopardizing future funding for vital road and transit maintenance is worth the meager savings motorists may receive if the oil companies decide to pass on the savings through lower prices at the pump."

Later in the segment, Atlantic associate editor Reihan Salam echoed Barnicle's number, asserting that "30 bucks a week makes a big difference, but look at health care insurance premiums. That's a huge issue. Look at the price of housing. I mean -- and, you know, you look at the consumer confidence, which is at all-time lows right now. This is very rough stuff."

From the June 30 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:

BARNICLE: One of the most dangerous elements it's -- and it's a high-wire act for Barack Obama -- and he's been walking it, sort of, and he might fall off it -- is McCain's gas tax holiday proposal.

Bogus? Fine. Short-term solution? No problem understanding that. But politicians have got to be very, very careful when they tell people living right at the margin, right at the edge, that $30 a week isn't a whole lot of money. It's a huge amount of money for a lot of people in this country.

MATTHEWS: Right.

I thought Hillary won on that issue, didn't she, Reihan? I mean, it sounds like a pander, but, sometimes, people who are in trouble need somebody to pander to them.

SALAM: I think that --

MATTHEWS: -- I mean, do what they need.

SALAM: I think there's definitely something to that. But again, I mean, 30 bucks a week makes a big difference, but look at health care insurance premiums. That's a huge issue. Look at the price of housing. I mean -- and, you know, you look at the consumer confidence, which is at all-time lows right now. This is very rough stuff. And I think Mike is right to say that Barack Obama is shrewd. He understands that this stuff matters.

MATTHEWS: OK.

SALAM: And he wants to communicate. He wants to connect, but I'm not sure he is going to be able to pull it off.

Posted In
Economy, Taxes
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Mike Barnicle
Show/Publication
Hardball
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.