Warren dim on raising gas taxes to pay for infrastructure

Lower-, middle-class Americans would be affected

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren has pitched a wide array of proposals that would make most Republicans shudder, but there is one area where she aligns with conservatives: the gas tax.

While many in her party back raising the federal gas tax to pay for infrastructure renewal projects, the Massachusetts senator said during her presidential campaign town hall with CNN on Monday night that she isn't in favor of the notion because it affects lower and middle class Americans.

"I'm open to the conversation, but what worries me is it falls hardest on working people," Warren told CNN's Jake Tapper. "When I talk about raising taxes, what I really want to see is I want to see an ultra-millionaire's tax."

The federal fuel tax has not been raised from the current level of 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993, but states coping with increasing construction costs and aging infrastructure have taken up the issue on their own in recent years. More than two dozen states have raised their fuel taxes since 2013.

Many conservative Republicans oppose increasing the fuel tax, although President Donald Trump has said he would support it. Trump is joined by Democratic lawmakers and the Chamber of Commerce, which has called for hiking the tax to 25 cents per gallon over five years, projecting it would raise $375 billion in a decade.

The efforts are fiercely opposed by anti-tax Republicans and influential conservative donors such as the Koch network.

Trump sparked concern among Republicans in Congress last year when he endorsed raising the tax to 25 cents per gallon during a meeting with lawmakers about his $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan.

Democrats have long said infrastructure could be an area of common ground with the Trump administration, but there has been little momentum to address the issue, despite bipartisan agreement that something should be done to improve American roads and bridges.

The White House's proposal unveiled last year was met with scorn from Democratic lawmakers and apathy from Republicans. Before the plan was even put forward it became somewhat of a recurring joke on Capitol Hill due to the administration's vagueness about what would be included in the bill and constant delays in the GOP's legislative timetable during Trump's first year in office.

When the plan was released, Republicans weren't eager to spend valuable calendar time during a difficult midterm campaign year approving an infrastructure package (or finding offsets for it), especially after blowing a hole in the deficit with the GOP tax bill. And Democrats took issue with it because it would include only $200 billion in direct federal funding for new projects, placing most of the burden on state and local governments. House Democrats instead called for $1 trillion in federal spending, five times that amount.

They may have a better chance to secure such an increase in an infrastructure bill now that they control the House, but they could face resistance from the White House and the GOP-led Senate.

There's also a sense of urgency among lawmakers who want to secure funding for the Gateway project, which would involve the construction of new lines and costly upgrades for existing rail that has been deteriorating in New York and New Jersey, such as the Hudson Tunnel. The Obama administration agreed to pay for half of the project, but Trump nixed that arrangement and later upped the ante by threatening to veto spending bills with funding for it in the past.

Earlier this month, the House Ways and Means Committee held its first hearing on infrastructure in eight years. Members of both parties agreed on the need to pass a bill.

"The President campaigned on a massive infrastructure package, and he mentioned it again in this year's State of the Union address," Chairman Richard Neal said in his opening remarks. "I've spoken with Secretary Mnuchin and Secretary Chao, and both have assured me that we have willing partners in the administration. So I think we have a real opportunity to work together and do something big here."

During the hearing, Democratic lawmakers and witnesses alike pointed to the gas tax as a funding mechanism that could solve the problem of crumbling tunnels and highways, with some suggesting it may be a shorter term solution before implementing a tax on vehicle miles traveled instead.

"I want to talk about the elephant in the room: the gas tax," US Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donohue said during the hearing. "How many people in this room can live off the same paycheck they did in 1993? No one. Our nation's roads and bridges and transit systems can't either."

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