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Former Big Oil President Gives New Life To Oil Subsidy Debate

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WASHINGTON -- A former top oil executive said on Thursday that big oil companies don't need government help, inserting a new dynamic into the debate over oil subsidies in the context of the deficit.

"In the face of sustained high oil prices it was not an issue--for large companies--of needing the subsidies to entice us into looking for and producing more oil," John Hofmeister, who retired from Shell in 2008 and now runs Citizens for Affordable Energy, told National Journal.

Democrats are pushing for Republicans to remove subsidies that help large oil companies, while the GOP pushes deep cuts to education and other social programs.

House Republicans will try to cut more than $60 billion from spending in upcoming weeks as they debate plans to fund the government for the rest of the year. Yet under GOP-created rules, tax cuts and subsidies are exempt from "Cut-go" requirements, meaning they can be approved even if they increase the deficit.

But two leading conservative House republicans said they were at least open to putting the subsidies on the chopping block.

"I'm by-and-large not in the subsidy business and don't care for the subsidy business, so I've got an open mind," Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) told HuffPost. "I'd like to reform the entirety of the tax code and flatten it all out."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said he would look at the former oil executive's comments. "What we have to focus on in Washington, D.C., today is the five building blocks of American growth," he told HuffPost. "As we make decisions that send us on a path toward fiscal solvency, are we already maintaining a pathway toward energy independence? Access to American energy resources is vital to our prosperity."

Some Democrats hope to end oil subsidies to prevent drastic cuts to government programs. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill on Thursday that would eliminate $5 billion in subsidies to major oil and gas companies. That legislation exempts smaller oil companies, which Hofmeister said are more dependent on subsidies to stay in operation in the United States.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said at a press conference on Friday he hoped to introduce an amendment to the upcoming continuing resolution bill to reduce oil subsidies and fund other projects, but said GOP rules would not allow for such a measure.

"When their corporate sponsors want to protect their special interests in the internal revenue code, Republicans have rules for that," Andrews said. "Why don't we take a small piece of the tax giveaway to Exxon and give it to homeless veterans?"