ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Eloise Harper Report: The Democratic presidential contenders traded jabs on the campaign trail Tuesday regarding their varying positions on a gas tax holiday.
From a Winston Salem, NC town hall meeting, Senator Barack Obama painted Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton as supporting the tax plan for purely political reasons.
"This isn't an idea designed to get you through the summer, it's designed to get them through an election," Obama said of the proposal which he does not support. "The easiest thing in the world for a politician to do is to tell you what they think you want to hear. But if we're gonna solve our challenges right now, then we've gotta start telling the American people what they need to hear. Tell 'em the truth."
Obama said McCain and Clinton's support of the gas tax illustrates the problem with Washington.
"Oil companies like Shell and BP just reported record profits for the quarter. And we're arguing over a gimmick to save you half a tank of gas over the course of the entire summer so that everyone in Washington can pat themselves on the back and say that they did something."
But, a spokesman from the McCain campaign, Tucker Bounds, fired back at Obama, charging that the Illinois Senator doesn't fully grasp the current state of the U.S. economy.
“Barack Obama doesn’t understand the effect of high gas prices on the American economy," Bounds said in a paper statement. "Senator Obama voted for a gas tax reduction before he opposed it, he has no plan for relief from record-high gas prices for Americans this summer, and he’s the empty-tank candidate in this race.”
Obama went on to say that some economists believe that the gas tax holiday will actually raise gas prices because people will start using more gas and demand will then go up. He added that without a plan to pay for it, the money would come out of the Highway Trust Fund, and there's no telling if gas companies would pass the savings on to consumers.
"So you end up giving them more money and we've drained the highway trust fund," he said.
Clinton also raised the issue of increasing gas prices today, from a wood veneer factory in Indianapolis, IN.
"The oil companies keep making out like bandits, you know they have had the highest profits in the history of the world," she said after a tour of the facility. "My gas price agenda is a jobs agenda. I have traveled all over Indiana and I have said my campaign is about jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs. Without good jobs everything else we are talking about is just not going to happen."
Clinton continued, "There are a lot of people in Indiana who would really benefit from a gas tax holiday, you know that may not mean much to my opponent but it means a lot to people who are struggling here, you know people who commute long distances to work farmers and truckers who are in the business of driving."
Clinton then knocked McCain's economic plan saying, "He wants a gas tax holiday but he won't pay for it. I don't think that's responsible. His plan would slash the funds and the jobs that would go into repairing and keeping up our roads our bridges and our other highway interests."
"Senator Obama won't provide relief while Senator McCain wont pay for it," Clinton finished, adding, "I'm the only candidate who will provide immediate relief at the pump with a plan to make it happen turning talk into action."
Clinton went on to give several more details about her gas tax plan, explaining that it includes "lowering gas prices by temporarily suspending the gas tax for consumers and businesses. We will pay for it by proposing a windfall profits tax on the big oil companies -- they sure can afford it."
The former First Lady sought to draw a distinction from her position and that of Obama's saying, "This is a big difference in this race. My opponent opposes giving consumers a break from the gas tax, but I believe American people are being squeezed pretty hard by everything happening, the housing crisis, the health care cost and now of course this increase in gas costs."
Obama has still not commented on his support in the Illinois State Senate of the suspension of the 5 % state sales tax on gas in 2000. But, today during his Winston Salem stop, he tried to reach out to people struggling to pay gas bills, saying just because he's a presidential candidate doesn't mean that he doesn't remember the feeling.
"It hasn't been that long since I filled up my own gas tank. And you know, Secret Service now has taken over, but I know what it's like to fill up a gas tank and get sticker shock."At a later event in Hickory, North Carolina, Obama, for the first time, attempted a short explanation for his support of a 5% state sales tax suspension while in the Illinois state senate in 2000. "When I was in the state legislature," Obama told the crowd, "there was a bill like this that came up and I voted for it and six months later we decided not to renew it because it wasn't making any difference in people's lives. It wasn't helping."