WASHINGTON -- The Democratic attempt to take on the major oil companies is being challenged from within, with representatives of producing states rushing to the defense of the dirty-energy industry, complicating the plan to present a stark contrast between the two parties.
Democratic Sens. Mark Begich and Mary Landrieu, who represent Alaska and Louisiana, respectively, each took to the Senate floor Wednesday to decry their party's attempt to strip tax breaks from the top oil companies.
Landrieu bemoaned the "inherent unfairness" of closing the tax loophole, insisting that doing so "will not reduce gasoline prices by one penny.”
Begich chided the party for putting message over substance. "It is a gimmick, a gimmick to get the next week of activity, and get some press out there,” he said. “Picking on one industry because it sounds good, rates good in the polls, gets you a couple of headlines is not what the American people want us to do here. If anything, they're getting fed up with that. … Let’s stop the headline-grabbing and get serious about the energy security."
The infighting couldn't come at a worse time for Democratic leaders. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is reportedly "leaning towards" voting to strip the tax breaks, citing "record profits" that come from the companies' "tax advantage," according to a tweet from CNN's Ted Barrett.
Democrats held a press briefing at a gas station Wednesday and felt like they were given a boost of momentum when a ConocoPhillips executive called ending the tax breaks "un-American."
"For ConocoPhillips to question the patriotism of those public officials who believe they do not deserve billions of dollars in wasteful subsidies is simply beyond the pale and I expect an apology from the CEO tomorrow at tomorrow's hearing," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said at the gas station.
Nevertheless, said Begich, Congress shouldn't end “incentives for increased domestic energy consumption, some of which have been on the books for decades."
“The fact is, developing Alaska’s oil and gas resources buys our country decades of energy security by offsetting foreign imports from unfriendly countries," Begich said. "Consider a few examples, which I have here on the board next to me: developing offshore resources in the Chukchi – up in this area -- and the Beaufort Sea will produce 1.8 million barrels of oil a day. This is easily enough to offset oil imports from Saudi Arabia.”
Oil, however, is sold on on international market, so the notion that Saudi Arabian tankers would be diverted from American shores is a stretch.
"This will not reduce gasoline prices. So why are we doing it? Will it create jobs? No. It will actually hurt job production in the United States," Landrieu said. "Why don't you help us produce more, because we can do it, but we get shut down by bureaucracy, moratoriums, permatorium, rules, regulations, EPA, refuges. We can't even get free to produce the energy that we can produce for this country.”
Dan Froomkin contributed reporting