Despite Obama’s Call, Senate Blocks Oil-Subsidies Bill

Amy Harder

Capping off a week filled with politicking over high gasoline prices and energy policy, the Senate on Thursday blocked a Democratic measure that would have repealed tax breaks for major oil companies.

The vote was 51-47, mostly along party lines, on legislation sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., to end subsidies for the five biggest oil companies. The bill needed 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster.

The bill's failure was expected, but the debate throughout the week and vote on Thursday gives lawmakers a platform to air grievances about what the other party is doing (or not doing) to ease voters' pain at the pump.

The vote came just minutes after President Obama implored Congress to pass the bill—although he surely knew the measure stood no chance.

“It’s like hitting the American people twice,” Obama said in a Rose Garden speech on Thursday morning. “You’re already paying a premium at the pump right now. And on top of that, Congress thinks it’s a good idea to send billions more of your tax dollars to the oil industry?”

The national average price for a gallon of gas was $3.92 on Thursday, according to AAA. That’s up more than 20 cents from a month ago.

The vote also provides each party political fodder to attack vulnerable members up for reelection this fall, including Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and Richard Lugar of Indiana. Democratic senators eyed by the GOP as vulnerable include Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana.

The Menendez bill would have put the money saved from the oil industry tax breaks—about $4 billion a year—toward expiring clean-energy tax incentives, including the production tax credit for wind, which is supported by some Republicans along with most Democrats, and a grant program for solar power, which is universally opposed by Republicans because it was created as part of Obama’s stimulus package.