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May 18, 2011 8:00 AM Senate GOP protects oil industry subsidies

By Steve Benen

Senate Democrats thought it was at least worth a shot. With oil industry profits soaring, and consumers frustrated by rising prices at the pump, it seemed like the ideal time to end $21 billion in subsidies to oil companies that clearly don’t need them. When prominent Republican leaders like John Boehner and Paul Ryan hinted they could support a repeal of these industry incentives, Dems were even more encouraged.

But these subsidies have survived a very long time for a good reason — they’ve proven to be all but impossible to kill.

The Senate on Tuesday blocked a Democratic proposal to strip the five leading oil companies of tax breaks that backers of the measure said were unfairly padding industry profits while consumers were struggling with high gas prices.

Despite falling eight votes short of the 60 needed to move ahead with the bill, top Democrats said they would insist that eliminating the tax breaks to generate billions of dollars in revenue must be part of any future agreement to raise the federal debt limit.

“We have to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” said Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota. “While oil prices are gouging the pocketbooks of American families, these companies are on a pace for a record profit this year.”

Technically, last night’s vote was on the motion to proceed on the bill. Supporters outnumbered opponents, 52 to 48, but with Republicans filibustering the measure, Dems needed a 60-vote supermajority just to initiate a debate on the proposal. They fell eight votes short.

Two oil-friendly Democrats, Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska), voted with the GOP, as did Nebraska’s Ben Nelson who had previously said he opposes filibusters on motion to proceed. Two Republicans, Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, voted with the majority.

Other alleged GOP “moderates,” including Scott Brown (Mass.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.), voted to protect Big Oil’s tax incentives.

The outcome didn’t come as a surprise, since the chances of Democrats finding eight additional votes were remote, but the results are likely to be fodder in the 2012 elections, which is largely why the measure was brought to the floor in the first place.

As for the larger context, it’s also worth keeping in mind that the GOP is moving backwards on the issue. In 2007, the last time Democrats tried to end oil industry subsidies, eight Republicans sided with the majority to scrap the incentives. Late yesterday, there were only two. Given the larger circumstances, the GOP should be more inclined to end the subsidies, not less, and yet, here we are.

It’s also worth keeping campaign contribution totals in mind: “A Center for American Progress Action Fund analysis finds that the 48 senators who sided with Big Oil received over $21 million in career oil contributions, while 52 senators who sided with the American people received only $5.4 million in contributions.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • SteveT on May 18, 2011 8:07 AM:

    "A Center for American Progress Action Fund analysis finds that the 48 senators who sided with Big Oil received over $21 million in career oil contributions, while 52 senators who sided with the American people received only $5.4 million in contributions."

    This sort of information should be in the second paragraph of EVERY story about votes in Congress.

  • John R AKA Mr. Serf Man on May 18, 2011 8:07 AM:

    "analysis finds that the 48 senators who sided with Big Oil received over $21 million in career oil contributions, while 52 senators who sided with the American people received only $5.4 million in contributions.

    As if we didn't know

    The best government money can buy .

    I fear for the election campaign with the fury unleashed by Citizens United. It will be ugly.

  • c u n d gulag on May 18, 2011 8:08 AM:

    Follow dee moolah!

    I'm firmly convinced that Ben Nelson would vote to free serial killers from jail, and give child molesters unsupervised grade school visitation rights if there was campaign money in it.

    Sadly, I don't he's alone...

  • FRP on May 18, 2011 8:09 AM:

    Over the course of the Obama presidency we have been entertained by recurring senate , and congressional poseur presidents . The list is rather deep , and the talents more of the scavenger type . It may not be possible to reform a hotdog , but at least they ould offer some mustard .

  • Joan on May 18, 2011 8:10 AM:

    We should keep this in the headlines, GOP starves the poor & elderly to give welfare to oil companies. Also did you read about Scott Walker who is slowly and surely consolidating his power over Wisconsin by installing his corporate cronies in every government position instead of the elected officials. We are being totally screwed.

  • DAY on May 18, 2011 8:27 AM:

    C-SPAN's soporific senate scenes cure insomnia.

    What matters is gas is $4 a gallon, and it is all Obama's fault!

  • SW on May 18, 2011 8:36 AM:

    This is fodder for 30 sec tv adds. Not much more. But it should be effective next fall. Particularly when the Republicans try to blame high gas prices, counterintuitively on renewable energy and the environment. Believe it or not, that is their cherished strategy.

  • chi res on May 18, 2011 9:10 AM:

    By next fall, gas prices will be down to $3.25/gal (wow, everyone will say, look how cheap!) and no one will care about a vote on subsidies for oil companies. (Besides, subsidies are needed, everyone will say, to build up our very important reserves of domestic oil!)

    I get sooooo tired of candlelight marches against injustice. If you want to do something, then engage the enemy with sufficient force to overcome them. Otherwise, wait and build.

  • rikyrah on May 18, 2011 9:17 AM:

    this is why Reid needs to force them to vote on the House GOP budget

  • Kiweagle on May 18, 2011 9:26 AM:

    Wow Steve, you somehow neglected to mention a very important fact about this vote: Had it passed, it would have been unconstitutional.

    Having said that, I'm thrilled to see the Democrats seizing upon these oil subsidies and the GOP's mad attempt to alter Medicare to attack the conservatives. About friggin' time.

  • Neo on May 18, 2011 9:47 AM:

    It's a real bummer that tax bills have to originate in the House ... or at least that is what the Constitution says.

  • bdop4 on May 18, 2011 11:29 AM:

    This is about making your opponent go on record on an issue that should be a no brainer. Not one person has offered an argument in support of oil subsidies that isn't ridiculous on its face.

    I get sooooooo tired of self-appointed "pragmatists" who think forcing your opponent to take an unpopular stand on an issue is somehow naive.

    I mean, really, chi res, how is this going to hurt Democrats?

    Even if the price of gas does fall (and I wouldn't bet on it), the oil companies are still making massive profits. How does that entitle them to these subsidies?

  • chi res on May 18, 2011 12:24 PM:

    I mean, really, chi res, how is this going to hurt Democrats?

    Because losing, and feeling self-righteous about it, can be habit-forming. There need to be warnings.

    And please stop putting words in my mouth, asshole. Like I said the oil companies were entitled to the subsidies.

  • neil b on May 18, 2011 12:40 PM:

    Much of the reason for the high oil prices, as you might have guessed and explained in semiotic URL:
    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/05/13/114190/speculation-explains-more-about.html

  • Rook on May 18, 2011 9:12 PM:

    Ah, yea, of course they lost ground. They lost a few Democratic Senators in 2008. Hence the current result. Duh!

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