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Armey says House likely would cut gasoline tax

But U.S. should augment natural gas system, he says

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The House would likely go along if the Senate votes to suspend the 18-cent federal gas tax, but a new way would have to be found to pay for highway construction, the House majority leader says.

At any rate, Rep. Dick Armey said, suspending the tax would be a temporary fix to a permanent problem of high gasoline prices. More helpful would be to augment the natural gas delivery system, deal more forcefully with foreign oil suppliers and cut down on oil imports, he said on "Fox News Sunday."

"Let's look at building natural-gas lines so people in the Northeast can be . . . heating with good, clean, reliable inexpensive natural gas," said Armey, R-Texas. "Let's have a foreign policy that allows us to get some respect out of the OPEC nations that we deserve — and we fought for, by the way. And then let's . . . reduce our domestic dependence on foreign oil."

On the gasoline tax, most of which is supposed to go into a highway trust fund, Armey said a source of replacement money would be an important consideration before the tax could be suspended. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who controls the flow of legislation in the Senate as majority leader, has said he may have a vote on a suspension suggested by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

"I think the House is willing to do that, but . . . we want to do it correctly," Armey said. "And the first thing you have to answer is, 'How do you replenish the highway construction funds?'

"And if we can work out that riddle, I think we'll be able to do that. It will be a good thing to do."

Like other Republicans in this presidential election year, Armey largely blamed the Clinton administration for high gasoline prices. Should Vice President Al Gore become president instead of Texas Gov. George W. Bush, he said, gas prices would climb inexorably higher.

"That is his policy for the environment, to eliminate the internal combustion engine," Armey said.

In April's reissue of Gore's 1992 book "Earth in the Balance," the vice president wrote a foreword in which he reaffirmed his idea that such engines should be eliminated within 25 years. He said he doesn't want to eliminate the car, just to develop a car that won't harm the environment.

On ABC's "This Week," Wisconsin's Republican governor, Tommy Thompson, was asked his view of what is causing the current price levels, more than $2

a gallon in much of his state.

"First," Thompson said, "I don't think the Clinton-Gore administration has any idea what a good energy policy is. Second, we're so dependent on OPEC nations for importing our oil."

He added into the mix new Environmental Protection Agency rules for less-polluting fuel and the country's dwindling refining and delivery infrastructure.

"I've just heard from Governor Thompson (what) you've heard from virtually all the Republicans across America, I guess following the lead of Governor Bush," responded Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., whose state also has been hit by particularly exorbitant prices. "You never once heard him suggest the possibility — even the possibility — that the oil companies might have been gouging us. . . . They don't want to put the blame where it should lie, and that's with the oil companies."

Durbin said the Federal Trade Commission is issuing subpoenas to major oil companies in its investigation of their activities across the country.