WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's plea to Congress to end $4 billion in tax subsidies to oil companies was rebuffed Thursday as the Senate turned back a Democratic bill to repeal the tax breaks.
Moments after Obama made his election-year appeal in the White House Rose Garden, the Senate failed to reach the threshold of votes needed to proceed to a measure that would have ended the subsidies. Obama had argued that Americans are getting hit twice – once at the gas pump, and once more by sending billions of dollars in tax subsidies to oil companies.
"I think it's time they got by without more help from taxpayers who are already having a tough enough time paying the bills and filling up their gas tank," the president said. "And I think it's curious that some folks in Congress, who are the first to belittle investments in new sources of energy, are the ones that are fighting the hardest to maintain these giveaways for the oil companies."
The Senate vote was 51-47, short of the 60 votes necessary. Two Republicans voted to proceed to the legislation – Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. But four Democrats rejected the effort – Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Begich of Alaska.
Prior to the vote, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell challenged Obama and Democratic leaders.
"Is this the best we have to offer folks who are staring at $4 a gallon gasoline? A bill that even Democrats admit won't do anything to lower the price of gas?" the Kentucky lawmaker asked.
Obama said oil companies are pulling in record profits and shouldn't get taxpayer help when that money could be used on alternative energy. Obama, up for re-election, has sought to align himself with people frustrated by high gas prices.
Many congressional Republicans said cutting the tax breaks would lead to higher fuel prices, raising costs on oil companies and affecting their spending on exploration. Obama couldn't end the subsidies when Democrats controlled Congress earlier in his term.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would continue pressing for repeal of the subsidies.
"That was an unfortunate vote," he said of Thursday's Senate action. Obama "won't stop calling for this, it makes zero sense to have the American taxpayer subsidize oil and gas companies who are enjoying record profits."
Obama spoke before a crowd in the Rose Garden that included representatives from energy, business and environmental groups, as well as people who wrote on social media sites about how rising gas costs affected their finances.