05/20/2011 08:22 pm ET | Updated Jul 20, 2011

Not a Good Week for Big Oil

Washington, D.C. -- The Big Five oil companies -- Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Phillips -- may be hoping that the end of the world actually occurs on May 21. Then they can say proudly that they went out bloodied but unbowed. Big Oil kept $40 billion in undeserved tax subsidies, in spite of the unprecedented profits and wealth they reported this quarter. At the end of the week, their lobbyists could have stood proudly in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, had they chosen to do so.

But in the perhaps more likely event that the world does not end on May 21, and should the oil companies end up caring about their long-term bottom lines, the future does not look so bright. After an unprecedented lobbying effort, a narrow majority of the U.S. Senate voted to end those tax giveaways. 52-48, with two Republicans, Mainers Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, breaking ranks with their Republican colleagues, and three Democrats -- Ben Nelson, Mark Begich, and Mary Landrieu -- voting with Big Oil.

Now, in the U.S. Senate -- as in horseshoes -- close counts, so the oil industry dodged the bullet. Once again the Republican minority invoked the filibuster requirement of 60 votes to block action. But once Congress comes together on a budget resolution -- which admittedly may be some time away -- a simple 51 votes can decide subsidy issues, and Big Oil is in Big Trouble.

The usual oil industry hole card -- campaign finance bribery -- has already been played. Those who voted to continue the subsidies received on average more than $370,000 in campaign gifts from oil, while those who voted against received only a fifth as much.

Perhaps more heartening was a solid rebuff of the Tea Party/Drill-Baby-Drill caucus, when the Senate voted 57-42 to reject Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's "Drill-Baby-Drill" amendment, with five Republicans joining the Democrats to block McConnell's idea.

A few points stand out:

Big Oil can no longer muster majorities in the Senate.

  • The Senate rules still prevent the majority from taking even the simplest steps to solve the nation's problems.

  • The Republican leadership in the Congress is utterly insincere in claiming to worry about the deficit. Not only are they opposed to tax increases on American billionaires, they are opposed to tax increases on the oil-producing governments of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Nigeria. Some of the subsidies they defend flow to foreign governments, at the expense of American taxpayers.

    If the world doesn't end on May 21, keep these ideas in mind. The Drill-Baby-Drill caucus wants you to forget them.