WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama called on Congress to stop taxpayer-funded subsidies for oil companies, and the Senate promptly ignored him Thursday.
Senators voted 51 to 47 to end debate on a bill that would do what Obama asked, thus failing to reach the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.
The rebuff came just an hour after the president took to the Rose Garden to make his appeal, arguing that with oil prices hovering at around $100 a barrel and oil companies netting billions of dollars each financial quarter, there's little reason to give taxpayer-funded aid to the U.S. petroleum industry.
"On top of these record profits, oil companies are also getting billions a year in taxpayer subsidies," Obama said. "Think about that. It's like hitting the American people twice. 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?"
It was mostly Republicans who thought that way, although four Democrats -- Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jim Webb (Va.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) -- joined with the GOP. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, the two Maine Republicans, voted with the majority of Democrats.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued that it wasn't a matter of helping oil companies, but of not raising taxes on them, which he said would lead them to raise gas prices.
"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?" McConnell said just before the vote.
He also threw in a couple of digs at the president in suggesting that Obama's speech was political theater and that Obama didn't actually push very hard for passage of the bill because he didn't complain earlier in the week when Democrats voted to stop debating oil and take up postal reform.
"I see the president made a statement a little while ago in support of this proposed tax hike. My question is: Where was the White House when Democrats voted to get off of it?" McConnell said before zinging the president for blocking part of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone oil pipeline and for his open-mic comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on missile defense. "Maybe they were too busy lining up votes against the Keystone pipeline. Maybe the president was too busy telling the Russians about how he's hoping for more flexibility."
Still, Obama saw no reason to let oil companies walk away with more than $20 billion funded by U.S. tax revenues over the next 10 years.
"It's not like these are companies that can't stand on their own," Obama said. "Last year, the three biggest U.S. oil companies took home more than $80 billion in profit. Exxon pocketed nearly $4.7 million every hour.
"I'm not worried about the big oil companies," he added. "With high oil prices around the world, they've got more than enough incentive to produce even more oil. That's why 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."
Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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