Jeff Bingaman, Senate Natural Resources Committee Chair, Doesn’t Know About Tax Treatment of Natural Resource Extraction

The other vote we’ve been waiting for the Senate to hold, other than the one on the Ryan budget that ends Medicare, is a vote on ending $21 billion in fossil fuel subsidies to the Big 5 oil companies. This is another vote that has electoral potential, and it’s already proven to be a fairly popular stance. Heck, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page ran an op-ed from Al Lewis (not Grandpa from The Munsters) excoriating ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva for calling the potential end to the subsidies “un-American.” Republicans are definitely on the defensive for their protection of giveaways for the richest companies in the world.

But again, you have Democrats like Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) leaping to Republicans’ aid.

Democratic leaders are planning a test vote on their plan to end incentives for Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips that are worth an estimated $21 billion over 10 years. But Bingaman said the plan – which would steer the savings into deficit reduction – does not have enough votes.

“I don’t believe it does, and I think the Republicans will come up with some alternative they are going to offer that does not have the votes either,” he told C-SPAN.

It’s not clear if the bill has Bingaman’s support. “Frankly I haven’t decided how to vote. I certainly support paring back some of these tax breaks,” he said.

But he added that he would have to review the specific tax breaks targeted in the bill. “There is a whole list of them in the proposal that has been brought forward, and whether or not all of them should be pared back I am not certain at this point,” Bingaman said.

You have two things habitual to Democratic politicians here. First, they talk about votes in Congress like they’re pundits and not actors in the vote. Bingaman doesn’t think the legislation has the votes, in part because he’s not even committed to voting for it himself. Second, you have Bingaman certain on the politics without even knowing the details of the policy. By the way, this isn’t some backbencher, but the chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee who has no real opinion on oil company tax breaks.

If you’re wondering what Bingaman and his colleagues are doing in that committee at a time of high gas prices, I don’t know either. He no longer believes that he can even get a clean energy standard, a watered-down version of a renewable energy standard, through the committee. He trying to work on legislation for offshore drilling safety that has languished since the BP oil disaster, and he gave a compliment to legislation pushed by Lamar Alexander and Jeff Merkley promoting electric vehicles. Other than that, the energy agenda is completely stalled. And I’m not even sure Democrats will gain an electoral benefit from pushing this Big Oil subsidy issue anymore.

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