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Senate Votes to Keep Oil and Gas Tax Subsidies

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Mary Landrieu was one of four Democrats who voted with Republicans against cutting off debate on a bill that would have ended tax breaks for the biggest five oil companies.

After almost a week of political jockeying, the Senate today rejected legislation that would repeal tax breaks for the biggest five oil companies and would extend 19 renewable energy tax subsidies that expired at the end of 2011 or are near expiring.

The Senate voted 51-47, failing to reach the 60 votes needed to cut off debate.

The 47 votes against the bill included Democratic Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Jim Webb (Va.), who voted with Republicans against cutting off debate on the bill.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) joined with most other Democrats in supporting the measure.

Minutes before the Senate vote, President Barack Obama exhorted the chamber to finally eliminate oil company subsidies after a century.

“American oil is booming,” he said. “The oil industry is doing fine. With record profits and rising production, I’m not worried about the big oil companies. With high oil prices around the world, they’ve got more than enough incentive to produce even more oil.”

Obama also poured cold water on the argument that increased production would lower prices.

“The fact that we’re doing more here in the United States doesn’t necessarily help us, because even U.S. oil companies, they’re selling that oil on a worldwide market. They’re not keeping it just for us,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had set up the vote earlier this week on the measure, sponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). The Senate had initially been expected to debate a postal reform measure this week, but turned to the Menendez-Stabenow bill after Republicans decided to take Democrats up on the offer to debate energy policy.

Republicans agreed to bring the measure up because they believed they could capitalize politically with gas prices edging upward.

Democrats also saw an opportunity to hit home their message that the tax code is skewed toward the wealthy, something they say was exacerbated by Congressional Republicans and the administration of President George W. Bush.

“Over the past decade, the five major oil companies have made more than a trillion dollars. That’s not billions, that’s a ‘t,’ trillions,” Reid said before the vote.

“Even oil executives admit an industry making hundreds of billions of dollars in profit every year doesn’t need a hand out from the American taxpayer,” Reid continued. “We agree.” And “so do almost 80 percent of the American people.”

Republicans argued that the bill would result in higher gas prices as a result of oil companies passing on their higher tax bill to consumers.

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