Just another stupid idea

Some Senate Republicans favor giving taxpayers $100 rebate checks as some relief from high gasoline prices, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist conceded Wednesday that the idea is not fueling broad public appeal.

“The issue … doesn’t seem to have the support that had been anticipated,” the Tennessee Republican said in an interview.

Frist said he likes the idea because “a lot of people” could use help paying for gasoline. The $100 figure was chosen, he said, because that is what the average driver pays in federal gasoline taxes over nine months.

The Senate’s assistant Democratic leader, Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said the $100 rebate is not much relief for farmers.

“I respect Illinois farm families too much to suggest this is a serious response to a real crisis,” Durbin said in a statement.

Frist blamed former President Bill Clinton in part for high gasoline prices, saying Clinton 10 years ago vetoed legislation to allow drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. That extra supply of oil would have resulted in lower gasoline prices today, Frist said.

But the National Environmental Trust said in a statement that George Bush could have started his presidency in 2001 by raising fuel economy standards on passenger vehicles. “Drivers would be saving hundreds of dollars this year if President Bush used the authority” he had in 2001, the group said.

Frist said Republicans have proposed several solutions to lower gas prices in future years: incentives to expand gas refineries’ capacity, “environmentally sensitive” drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, stop purchases for six months to refill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, more research and development on alternative fuels, give the secretary of transportation authority to start a rule process to increase vehicle fuel economy standards, repeal some tax incentives for oil companies while expanding tax credits for using hybrid-fueled vehicles, and increase authority for federal and state enforcement against oil price gouging.

On other issues, he said it is not likely that the Senate will have time in the next six weeks to work on clean-air legislation, but he does plan debate and a vote on a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. flag.

Is flag protection a top priority for the country now?

“It’s a major priority — probably the No. 1 priority for every veteran that you write to in the United States of America,” Frist said. That debate and vote will be near June 30, he said.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com)