WASHINGTON – A consensus appears to be building in favor of stripping giveaways to multi-billion dollar oil companies, as the specter of rising oil prices amid high unemployment and soaring debt pressures Congress to act.
In a letter Tuesday afternoon, President Barack Obama urged House and Senate leaders to "take immediate action to eliminate unwarranted tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, and to use those dollars to invest in clean energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil." He called for ending $4 billion in tax cuts.
"While there is no silver bullet to address rising gas prices in the short term, there are steps we can take to ensure the American people don't fall victim to skyrocketing gas prices over the long term," Obama added.
The president's sternly-worded letter came less than one day after Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that cutting oil subsidies is "certainly something we should be looking at," invoking the deficit and declaring that oil companies "ought to be paying their fair share."
"Everybody wants to go after the oil companies and frankly, they've got some part of this to blame," he said, adding that he'd like to "see all the facts" first.
The remarks reflected a reversal of the traditional Republican opposition to such an idea, which Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), who helms policy and messaging for Democrats, gleefully seized upon.
"It is almost too good to be true, but gas hitting four dollars per gallon seems to have finally caused Speaker Boehner to see the light on the insanity of providing subsidies to profit-soaked big oil companies," Schumer said Tuesday.
"Senate Republican leaders should follow his example, and stop their senseless filibusters against attempts to repeal these giveaways. At a time when we have a record deficit, it makes no sense to keep rewarding oil companies for socking it to consumers at the pump."
In response to Obama's letter, Boehner didn't back off his earlier remarks, but said through a spokesman that he's skeptical of the president's plan.
"The Speaker wants to increase the supply of American energy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and he is only interested in reforms that actually lower energy costs and create American jobs," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. "Unfortunately, what the President has suggested so far would simply raise taxes and increase the price at the pump."
Stripping tax breaks for oil companies is a plank in the progressive caucus budget, and has been floated before by Obama and lawmakers such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), only to be branded by conservatives as an energy tax hike and fade away.