WASHINGTON — Barack Obama on Friday proposed emergency energy rebate checks of up to $1,000 "as soon as this fall," even though a new president won't take office until January and Congress is shutting down for a five-week summer recess.
"This rebate will be enough to offset the increased cost of gas for a working family over the next four months," said Obama, who has rarely been present at the Capitol this year. He announced his proposal before a St. Petersburg, Fla., audience.
Analysts were skeptical that Washington will act on his proposal. Lawmakers were trying to leave town by Friday evening and aren't set to return until Sept. 8. And while some leading Democratic lawmakers are thinking about another emergency economic stimulus program, the Bush administration has said it isn't ready to endorse a new one until the effects of the first one play out through the end of this year, and Congress can't do it before Jan. 20 without Bush signing on.
Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group, noted also that Republican John McCain is still urging a suspension of the 18.4 cent a gallon federal gasoline tax until Labor Day — another plan that's got no chance of being implemented because Congress is ignoring it.
"These things are easy to do when you're not the guy in charge," Ellis said of the
Obama and McCain plans.
Obama's latest idea is part of his broader economic stimulus plan, which the
presumptive Democratic nominee explained would spend $50 billion to "help jump-start job creation and help local communities that are struggling due to our economic downturn."
He calls for sending $25 billion to state governments that are strapped because
of declining revenues, and the rest to help fund road and bridge building.
The plan faces several roadblocks, starting with timing and ending with Bush opposition. Then too, Obama would pay for his emergency rebate with a proposed windfall profits tax on oil companies. That was tried from 1980 to 1988 and, largely because oil prices plunged, didn't yield the anticipated revenue.
Lately, congressional efforts to revive the tax have gone nowhere.
Last month, Republicans blocked a Democratic energy bill that included such a tax. Neither Obama nor Republican rival John McCain voted. If one somehow were to pass Congress this fall, Bush almost surely would veto it.
Then there's the problem of the federal deficit. Monday the White House dramatically revised its estimate for fiscal 2009, announcing that the sluggish economy and the cost of the economic stimulus earlier this year are likely to yield a record $482 billion deficit in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, well above the $407 billion predicted six months ago.
Obama didn't specifically address the deficit in his remarks, or in a fact sheet his campaign put out. A question to his campaign about the deficit went unanswered.
McCain, speaking Friday in Orlando, pushed his own energy plan, one that centers on trying to find more oil offshore.
"Most Americans understand that producing more of something will lower its price," the Arizona senator said. "If I am elected president, this nation will move quickly to increase our own energy production....We need to drill more, drill now and pay less at the pump."
Most analysts agree that any price break from offshore oil — if any is found there — would take seven to 10 years to show up in price breaks.