Senate Blocks Democratic Push To End Oil Subsidies

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President Obama renewed his call for lawmakers to end tax subsidies for big oil companies on Thursday. But the measure failed on a procedural vote in the Senate. Some say the issue is more about political posturing than realistically addressing the high price of gasoline.


High gas prices also got the attention of politicians today. President Obama and Senate Democrats zeroed in on oil companies with a renewed push to end their taxpayer subsidies. The effort fell short in the Senate. Still, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the White House hopes to use the issue to label Republicans as beholden to the oil industry.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: As the average price of gasoline nationwide nears $4 a gallon, some people have been registering their complaints on the White House website. This morning, President Obama gathered some of those unhappy drivers in the Rose Garden, where he warned that high gas prices is only one way motorists are getting hit in the pocketbook.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You're already paying a premium at the pump right now. And on top of that, Congress, up until this point, has thought it was a good idea to send billions of dollars more in tax dollars to the oil industry.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has been trying to end those tax subsidies for oil companies ever since he became president - so far, unsuccessfully. This morning, he tried again, saying when U.S. oil production is booming and oil companies reaping tens of billions of dollars in profits, they shouldn't need any extra help from taxpayers. His remarks came just as senators were preparing to cast a symbolic vote.

OBAMA: They can either vote to spend billions of dollars more in oil subsidies that keep us trapped in the past, or they can vote to end these taxpayer subsidies that aren't needed to boost oil production so that we can invest in the future.

HORSLEY: All but a handful of Senate Democrats wanted to end the subsidies, but the idea still fell well short of the 60 votes needed. All but one Republican senator voted no. Republican leader Mitch McConnell argues raising taxes on oil companies, which he calls energy manufacturers, would do nothing to lower the price of gasoline.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Senate Democrats asked us all to come out here not so we can make an actual difference in the lives of working Americans and families struggling to fill the gas tank but so we can watch them stage votes for show.

HORSLEY: Democrats' goal in forcing the vote is not to make a difference, McConnell said, but rather to make a point. And he seemed to be right about that. Here's White House spokesman Jay Carney after the votes were tallied.

JAY CARNEY: What has become clear is that Senate Republicans or Republicans in general on Capitol Hill have decided to ally themselves with oil and gas companies over the interests of the American taxpayer in this case.

HORSLEY: But even if the goal of today's vote was merely to put Republicans on record in favor of tax breaks for big oil companies, Carney insists it was not just political posturing during an election year.

CARNEY: An election year show is to go out and promise that if only you are elected or only your plan was passed, that suddenly the price of gas would drop, which is malarkey - and you know it, I know it, everybody in this rooms knows it.

HORSLEY: The administration says there's no single or fast way to lower gas prices, instead it's pushing a long-term strategy that includes stepped-up production of oil but also more alternative energy and greater fuel efficiency. Mr. Obama wants to double-down on alternatives, but he won't be able to pay for those investments as he'd hoped by ending subsidies on oil and gas.

OBAMA: I think it's curious that some folks in Congress who were the first to belittle investments in new sources of energy are the ones that are fighting the hardest to maintain these giveaways for the oil companies.

HORSLEY: Democrats may hope they scored some political points with today's vote, but the oil subsidies continue, and the price of gasoline is still climbing. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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