The Senate on Thursday thwarted Democratic plans to strip billions of dollars in tax breaks from the largest oil companies, just an hour or so after President Obama urged the chamber to kill off the deductions.
Lawmakers voted 51-47 to move forward with Sen. Robert Menendez’s (D-N.J.) bill. Sixty votes were needed to advance the measure.
Two Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both from Maine — crossed party lines and voted to repeal the tax breaks. Four Democrats — Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Jim Webb (Va.) — voted against the bill.
The outcome of the vote was not a surprise, given that a similar plan failed 52-48 last May. But the decision to take another shot at passing the bill— and the decision by the White House to wade into the fight — underscore the political salience of rising gasoline prices in an election year.
Obama has sought to deflect blame for high gas prices, in part by casting Republicans as allies of big oil companies. He used a Rose Garden speech to urge lawmakers to back the plan.
“Today, members of Congress have a simple choice to make,” Obama said. “They can stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people.”
The vote Thursday followed several days of tactical maneuvering on both sides of the aisle. Republicans oppose the Menendez plan but unexpectedly voted Monday to allow debate on the bill, saying they welcomed the chance to pit their energy plans against those of Democrats.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cut debate on the bill short, blocking consideration of a handful of GOP amendments, including a proposal to dramatically expand offshore oil-and-gas leasing.
The Menendez plan would prevent the “big five” oil companies — Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips — from claiming several tax deductions. The bill, unlike the proposal defeated in May, would have also extended lapsed or soon-to-expire tax incentives for renewable power projects, biofuels production, electric cars, energy-efficient homes and others.
Republicans alleged the Democratic proposal would hit struggling consumers.
“That was 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,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor.
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