Beginning of The End for Big Oil’s Billion Dollar Subsidies?

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Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (N.J.) has introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to kill, once and for all, the billions of dollars worth of subsidies that are flowing from the federal government to the oil industry.

Under Menendez’s proposal, the $4 billion annual corporate welfare handed out to oil companies would instead be used to pay down the federal deficit and be re-invested into renewable energy technology.

Given the Republicans’ history of fighting for the oil industry and their subsidies, you would expect this bill to be dead on arrival. However, in an odd combination of arrogance and ignorance, Senate Republicans actually sided with Democrats in a vote to move the bill onto the floor for debate.

Republicans currently believe that any issue involving gas and oil is a home run for their party, so they’re banking on the issue actually helping them out, politically. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following statement about the issue:
 

“We’re going to use this opportunity to explain how out of touch Democrats are on high gas prices, and put a spotlight on the common-sense ideas Republicans have been urging for years – ideas that reflect our genuine commitment to the kind of all-of-the-above approach the President claims to support but doesn’t.”
 

McConnell’s comment demonstrates both the arrogance and ignorance of the Republican Party on the issue of gas prices.

While it is true that American citizens are upset over the high price of gasoline and many have had to make lifestyle changes in order to accommodate the squeeze at the pump, their anger is not being directed at the Democratic Party. Polls have consistently shown over the last year that American citizens place the blame for gas prices on the shoulders of both the oil industry and oil speculators, not the President.

McConnell’s statement also shows that he is unaware that almost 60% of the American public wants to end the $4 billion a year giveaways going to the oil industry.

But the Republicans are not the only ones hoping to capitalize on the price of gasoline. Democrats are attempting to paint the Republican Party as opponents of progress and innovation, something that polls show Americans already believe. A memo from the Center for American Progress (CAP) recently laid out the talking points for Democrats:
 

American Oil for American Soil. Require oil companies to use the oil that is produced in the United States from public lands and offshore to meet energy needs here at home, and stop oil companies from exporting oil from our public lands and waters to overseas markets. (60 percent support)

End Oil Subsidies. Repeal the four billion dollars per year in federal subsidies that currently are given to the oil companies, and use that money instead to fund investments that will make us less dependent on oil. (55 percent support)

Crack Down On Excessive Speculation. Tighter oversight and regulation of Wall Street speculators to prevent them from artificially driving up the price of gasoline. (54 percent support)

More Fuel Efficient Cars and Trucks. Increase fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, so they get more miles per gallon and consumers will save on their gasoline costs. (49 percent support)
 

The memo from CAP comes on the heels of aggressive efforts by the American Petroleum Institute to paint the issue of rising gas and oil prices as solely the responsibility of the President.

Currently, more than 60% of the American public believes that any political promise to reduce the price of gasoline below $2.50 is an outright lie.

Luckily, in the midst of the political bickering, it appears that the majority of the public is waking up when it comes to the issue of gas prices. If Senate Republicans want to play chicken with a vote on repealing big oil subsidies, they could find themselves on the wrong side of an issue on which public has made their opinion quite clear.

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Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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