Biden again goes off-message in talking about raising the gasoline tax

Okay, so maybe it’s not a huge shocker when Vice President Biden goes off-script. We’ll never forget his honest answer about legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012 that caused an epic White House scramble to get President Obama on the same message.

So on Wednesday, when Biden — well known for his deep affinity for transportation issues, particularly his beloved Amtrak — criticized Congress over transportation spending, he again veered off the administration rails.

“Hell, Congress can’t even decide on a gas tax to keep the highway system going,” Biden said during remarks about the border crisis.

But wait! The Obama White House, since its earliest days, has been adamant about one thing: It would not seek to raise the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal tax on gasoline to pay for highway investments. Tax increases don’t make for good politics. The White House proposed this year instead using revenue from corporate tax reforms to pay for infrastructure investments.

As the Loop wrote last month, we have a sneaking suspicion that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx may not be as opposed as his bosses are. Note how former DOT secretary Ray LaHood changed his tune as soon as he was unshackled from the Cabinet. And it appears Biden would like to see Congress raise the tax, too. (The vice president’s office has not responded to our request for further clarity.)

The federal gasoline tax was last raised in 1993 during the Bill Clinton administration, and before that by President “Read my lips: No new taxes” George H.W. Bush in 1990, and by President Ronald Reagan, who also promised no tax increases, in 1982.

Business groups and many members of Congress want to raise the tax in the interim to bolster the Highway Trust Fund to buy time to debate other financing streams. But, underscoring the difficult politics of it, an AP-Gfk poll released this week found that only 12 percent of Americans support raising the tax, and 59 percent were opposed.

But will Biden’s “gaffe” send the White House into a tizzy as his gay marriage remarks did?

Unlikely. It’s an election year, after all. And new taxes don’t quite rouse the base.

Carlos Danger, maitre d’

This just in from the Rockaway Times: Anthony Weiner’s going into the restaurant business.

The disgraced former congressman undone by Twitter self-portraits couldn’t quite restore his political career, but he seems to have a new restoration venture in the works.

Weiner is a principal figure behind the Rockaway Restoration Kitchen, which is described in an Idealist.org ad as a “healthy, sustainable restaurant in a hard luck community to provide training, on-the-job apprenticeship and placement in the culinary and food service sector for unemployed New Yorkers.” (So no weiners and slaw?)

Rockaway Beach in Queens was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, and during Weiner’s failed New York City mayoral bid he slammed the city’s parks department for restoring “hipster-looking concessions on the beach” rather than the community as a whole.

Weiner has been involved in site searches for the eatery/culinary school, according to the local newspaper’s scoop.

To be frank, Weiner would not be the first scandal-ridden New York pol to have tried his hand at the restaurant business. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) of “break you in half like a boy” fame, once ran a failed health food restaurant in Manhattan.

Maybe they can trade notes?

Smokey, meet Thermy!

A hearty Loop Happy Birthday to everyone’s favorite government-sponsored bear, Smokey, who becomes a septuagenarian Saturday.

Our colleague Elahe Izadi reports that Smokey was “born” on Aug. 9, 1944, to parents the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council. He has since become the star of one of the longest-running government public service announcements.

While Smokey is the most recognizable of all U.S. government mascots, he’s far from being the only one.

Agencies have been creating mascots for decades to promote all sorts of causes — from an owl who’s prepared for major storms to a turtle that protects himself against online identity theft.

Many of these mascots are created specifically for children. Because any message — no matter how worthwhile (or obscure) — must have a spokesperson, preferably an anthropomorphized one.

Here are some of the (odd) government mascots you almost certainly have missed:

U.S. Department of Agriculture: Thermy

Thermy promotes the use of food thermometers to protect yourself from the dangers of undercooked food. His jersey number is 160, to remind us to cook burgers to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thermy has a friend named “BAC” (short for Bacterium), a big green cartoon character used for the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s “Fight BAC” campaign to remind food preparers to wash hands and surfaces frequently, refrigerate food promptly and so forth.

Federal Trade Commission: Dewie the E-Turtle

The FTC launched a public service campaign in 2002 to encourage Americans to secure their private information online. It also included a turtle named Dewie.

“Dewie’s wired,” the FTC noted at the time, “but carries his security shell no matter what he’s doing on the Internet,” the agency said at the time.

National Weather Service: Owlie Skywarn

Perhaps the savviest of agency mascots on social media is this “Hurricane enthusiast, snowman sculptor, devoted cloud watcher.” Owlie Skywarn has his own Twitter feed and Facebook profile.

Skywarn — the owl’s family name — is also what the NWS calls its severe-weather-watching volunteer program.

Department of Energy: Energy Ant

DOE’s wise ant has been around since the 1970s oil crises and is used by the agency to foster awareness about energy issues and to promote diverse solutions.

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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