Senate Republicans on Thursday united to block a Democratic effort to repeal billions of dollars in subsidies to oil and gas companies, rejecting a plea from President Obama in a vote rife with election-year politics.
Voting 51-47 on a procedural motion that would have allowed the repeal to go forward to a formal vote, the Senate fell nine votes short of the 60 that was necessary. Nearly all Democrats supported the effort; nearly all Republicans opposed it.
There were a few exceptions. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both Maine Republicans and well-known moderates, bucked their party to support repealing the tax breaks. Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jim Webb of Virginia, three of the Senate's more conservative Democrats, bucked their party to oppose any repeal. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) were absent.
A similar bill had already failed by a similar vote last spring. Spurred by President Barack Obama, Democrats chose to repeat the fight in hopes that the bill's defeat would resound with voters this fall.
Earlier Thursday, Obama had publicly called on the Senate to repeal the tax breaks.
"Members of Congress have a simple choice to make," Obama said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden. "They can stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people."
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., targets $24 billion in subsidies due to be paid to the largest oil companies over the next ten years.
Democrats want to use that money for clean energy investments and to reduce the deficit, while Republicans say ending the subsidies will not lower gas prices and would amount to a tax increase on an industry that is already being treated unfairly.
In his remarks, Obama noted that the three biggest U.S. oil companies earned more than $80 billion in profits in 2011, with oil giant Exxon Mobil making nearly $4.7 million every hour.
He added, "Meanwhile, these companies pay a lower tax rate than most other companies on their investments - partly because we're giving them billions in tax giveaways every year."
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blasted Republicans for the vote, saying the GOP voted "to pick the pockets of American taxpayers in order to line the pockets of big oil executives."
"Because of Republican obstruction, taxpayers will continue to provide oil companies with $24 billion in subsidies, even as consumers continue to get gouged at the pump," Reid said. "This wasteful corporate welfare will continue until Republicans decide to put American taxpayers ahead of oil executives."
But Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took to the floor to defend the subsidies, arguing that they help the companies conduct research and drilling projects.
"Their brilliant plan on how to deal with gas prices: raise taxes on energy companies; when gas is already hovering around $4 a gallon, then block consideration of anything else, just to make sure gas prices don't go anywhere but up," McConnell said.
by RTT Staff Writer
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