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Republican Double-Talk on Oil Subsidies

A bill to eliminate subsidies for Big Oil won’t get a Senate vote until next week, according to Harry Reid’s spokesman. But in the meantime, Republicans have to marinate in a debate that they don’t want any part of. They have to endure the rollout of facts and figures about an industry making record profits, record campaign contributions AND taking taxpayer money, making their defense of said industry ridiculous.

According to Public Campaign, the Political Action Committees for BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil donated $285,500 to elected officials and political parties in the first quarter of 2011.

“These profit reports show Big Oil is making big bucks from high gas prices at the pump,” said Checks and Balances Deputy Director Matt Garrington. “Big Oil spent $63 million lobbying Congress and $2 million in campaign contributions last year so politicians would hand out $4 billion every year in taxpayer-funded subsidies.”

Public pressure is starting to sway GOP members of Congress. Speaker John Boehner, Denny Rehberg, Sam Graves, Mick Mulvaney, and Paul Ryan are all on record, stating the need to end oil and gas subsidies.

That nominal agreement on ending the subsidies will subside quickly given all that campaign cash. In fact, the same Republicans claiming to want to end those subsidies are the ones who voted to keep them in the recent past. So those statements don’t mean that Republicans will somehow bend and allow the subsidies to go away. This is more of an embarrassment for the GOP than a policy shift that will come to fruition.

However, there is an energy-related policy that actually might garner bipartisan support, to end another subsidy:

A long-running congressional fight over ethanol subsidies is heating up again. But it’s still unclear whether it will reach a flashpoint anytime soon.

This time, a Republican critic of the biofuel’s federal subsidies, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, is combining forces with a Democratic critic, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. They introduced a measure Tuesday that would repeal the big tax credit and the import tariff that have helped nurture the industry.

Critics contend that the subsidies have long since outlived their usefulness, especially as fuel prices have soared. Mr. Coburn is hoping to pass the new measure as an amendment to a small-business bill on the Senate floor. Aides say they believe they’re getting close to the high 67-vote threshold they would have to clear because of procedural hurdles.

It helps that pretty much none of the Republican nominees for President, who have to compete in Iowa, are running for Congress. Of course, the Senate could block the amendment, and if Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin have anything to say about it, they will.

But I could see some squeeze where the oil subsidies stay while the ethanol subsidies go away. Why, even the oil companies would favor that, right? It reduces competition for their product. Given that ethanol subsidies are just as destructive, I’d say that’s a measure of progress.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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