RIGHT MOVE ON GAS TAX

RIGHT MOVE ON GAS TAX

isely, the Senate has rejected the temptation to dabble in the oil-price issue by temporarily cutting the federal gasoline tax by 4.3 cents.

The decision, which came in a 56-43 vote on a procedural motion, amounts to an endorsement of long-term pragmatism over short-term political grandstanding. It was recognition that, while the former course may lack drama, its benefits clearly outweigh the momentary thrills, ink and air time of the latter.Cutting the gasoline tax would have allowed lawmakers to talk about how they were taking action to deal with sharply rising prices at the pump - prices that already have begun to ease somewhat with the global oil producers' agreement to hike output.

The issue also gave Republicans a chance to score points against Vice President Gore and his quest for the presidency. Gore cast the tie-breaking vote in 1993 that approved the levy.

But the 4.3-cent cut would have jeopardized $6 billion in funding for transportation projects like bridge repair and highway modernization.

Focusing just on the 28 percent of U.S. bridges classified as obsolete or structurally deficient, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., remarked: ''We're talking about a basic issue of safety that cannot be ignored in the interests of short-term, feel-good legislation.''

The quotation fits across the board. The Senate did the right thing.