POLITICS

Clinton Camp Defends Gas Plan: She Doesn't Need To Listen To Experts

Aides to Sen. Hillary Clinton defended on Thursday her support for a gas-tax holiday - a proposal that has been roundly criticized by economic and energy experts and derided among pundits as political pandering.

"Senator Clinton realizes there is a problem for consumers that requires both a short term and long term set of solutions," said Howard Wolfson, her chief spokesperson. "In the short term, she has laid out a plan to suspend the tax and have those resources or revenues paid by oil companies as well. In the long term, she has the boldest and most comprehensive plan that will increase fuel efficiency standards... help lawmakers retool their production facilities."

Wolfson said that Clinton would introduce legislation to alleviate the gas tax burden on consumers over the summer by having a windfall tax on oil company profits pick up the tab. He was non-committal as to whether or not the senator would leave the campaign trail and return to Washington to push the legislation.

Aides to Clinton could not, when asked, point to a single non-political expert who supported such a proposal, saying simply that it is a president's prerogative when to take expert advise.

"We believe the presidency requires leadership," said Wolfson. "There are times that a president will take a position that a broad support of quote-unquote experts agree with. And there are times they will take a position that quote-unquote experts do not agree with."

Pressed whether her decision to buck conventional wisdom -- energy analysts say the savings from the tax holiday would be minor and actually lead to an increase in demand for gas and driving -- contrasted with the notion that she has the greatest expertise on the economy, aides said no.

"The long and the short of it is that people are hurting today, and when you say that it doesn't save much money, our calculation is that for the average driver it would save 70 dollars," said chief strategist Geoff Garin. Internal polling, he added, said that the position was resonating with Indianans.

"We're seeing in our polling that working people appreciate the fact that Senator Clinton understands the incredible economic strain they are facing," Garin said.

Not mentioned on the conference call, but making its way around the Internet on Thursday, was a story from Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign in New York, when she came out in opposition to a gas tax holiday.

It is "a bad deal for New York and a potential bonanza for the oil companies," Clinton said of her Republican opponent Rick Lazio's plan to repeal 4.3 cents of the gas tax.

The campaign, on its website, said there was no contradiction between the two stances, pointing out that in 2000, the money would have been stripped from a highway trust fund, while in 2008, the senator would generate funds taxes on oil companies.

On Wednesday, The Huffington Post attempted to find one expert from any and all ideological persuasion who believed that a gas tax holiday is a wise idea. It proved impossible. However, the idea is likely popular in upcoming primary states like Indiana and Ohio, and other politicians, alongside Clinton, have argued that it is in the government's interest to give all consumers a bit of at-the-pump relief.