Editorial: Gas, guns, and overpromising

We’re encouraged by the big news from the weekend that 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans in the United States Senate agreed to the ‘framework’ of a deal on gun safety measures – enhanced background checks for prospective gun buyers under the age of 21 and funding for state red-flag laws, along with money for programs to improve safety and mental health services in schools. Even though it seemingly has less to do with gun control than it does the less direct permutations of the issue, it’s a start.

Mr. Devil lurks in the details. Now the nation waits while staffers for those 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans face off in a stuffy room in the U.S. Capitol and argue across the table about exactly what their principals meant in their weekend announcement.

Not that we blame the lawmakers for putting out a statement – it’s an impatient America that wants to know, right now, what Washington is going to do about guns, or, depending on one’s side in the debate, mental health. Legislation, as we know, doesn’t come easily out of the halls of Congress. In this instance, they have to make it look like they’re getting somewhere – so out comes the press announcement.

Public-policy-by-press-release carries with it the risk of overpromising; that the end product won’t come anywhere near the ‘framework’ such an announcement promised. Staffers are under pressure now not just to deliver a product that fits the press release, but also one that responds to the untold numbers of telephone calls and e-mails marked URGENT they’ll be sifting through as the negotiations plod forward.


Speaking of overpromising press gambits, how’s that gasoline tax break working out for you?

Remember back in April when New York state lawmakers trotted out the brass section to announce their cure for pain at the pump by removing the state’s sales tax on a gallon of gasoline? We acknowledge our cynicism here and don’t discount the value of saving a couple of dollars with a fill-up, but it would appear that not too many people are trumpeting the temporary tax cut that took effect on June 1.

It’s hard to get excited about saving a random number of pennies when, in the last week – according to Gasbuddy.com – the average price of a gallon of gasoline in New York rose by 15.1 cents, and are nearly 40 cents per gallon higher than one month ago. No, lawmakers couldn’t have foreseen such a ridiculous manipulation of the marketplace that would come about, perhaps, in part, as a result of their promise to drive prices down. We’re seeing a marketplace run amok, and, as we alluded in an earlier editorial on the topic, that’s no place for even the best intended legislative initiatives.

We’re paying $5/gallon and more for a gallon of gas. That all but erases the political benefit we’re certain some had hoped for with this sales tax ploy – one that coincides with the coming of primary elections in June and August, and running all the way through and past the general election in November.

The lesson here for the spin doctors: Be careful what you promise. Be it guns, gasoline, or anything else – a fired-up electorate is going to hold your bosses to the pledges they make in the carefully-worded statements you advance.

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