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Senate Debate on Big Oil Handouts Heats Up

14 May 2011  |   Lilly Zoller

Earlier this week, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, which proposes to end taxpayer handouts to the five largest oil companies (Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP America, ConocoPhillips and Chevron), and put the billions in savings toward reducing the national deficit. LCV strongly supports this effort to cut oil subsidies, especially at a time of near record gas prices coupled with outsized oil industry profits and given calls in Congress to cut the national deficit.

Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on this legislation that featured the heads of the five oil companies targeted in the bill. This hearing came on the heels of these companies announcing they made over $35 billion in the first quarter of this year alone. The oil executives argued against cutting these generous subsidies, calling them misinformed, discriminatory and counterproductive. CEO of ConocoPhillips, James Mulva even called the Menendez bill "un-American," which prompted Senator Menendez to demand an apology: a call that was unanswered in the hearing.

But Democratic Senators would not accept these arguments. Multiple Senators echoed the absurdity that top oil companies would suffer from the loss of $2 billion a year when they are projected to make $125 billion this year alone. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) even presented them with past- testimony from 2005 where the same top oil companies admitted that there was no need for tax incentives at just $55 per barrel. Now, at around $100 per barrel, there is even less need for tax handouts.

The Senate is expected to vote on this bill to cut oil company subsidies as soon as next week.

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