05/13/2011 04:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Republicans Who Opposed Oil Subsidies Are Now Hedging On Repeal

WASHINGTON -- Democrats trying to get political mileage out of their push to repeal multi-billion dollar subsidies to the thriving oil and gas industry are reminding balky Republicans that many of them have backed the idea before.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) office released a video mash-up Friday showing several of those Republicans speaking out against the subsidies that Democrats want to cut. Under the bill, the $21 billion saved would be used to pay down the deficit.

The star of the video is House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who late last month refused to defend the subsidies in an ABC News interview. His one explicit statement -- that the big oil companies don't need to get oil depletion allowances -- wasn't exactly a concession, however, as they haven't received those allowances since 1975. Boehner's staff quickly walked back his comments.


But other Republicans featured in the video may have more explaining to do. The video shows a clip of Sen. Susan Collins of Maine arguing against subsidies on the Senate floor in 2008. A contemporaneous press release from the senator suggests using some of the proceeds for alternative energy.

And Sen. John Thune of South Dakota is shown in April 2006 declaring, "If, in fact, [oil companies] are making such enormous profits, then perhaps they don't need the support and the tax incentives that are given to them by the American taxpayer."

Another is Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who voted for repealing subsidies as a member of the House in 2007, and recently stuck by the idea.

The oil subsidies were the subject of a contentious Senate hearing on Thursday. Democrats show no sign of backing off the issue, which they consider a political winner. But a solid voting Republican block -- supported by a few "oil patch" Democrats -- means the subsidies appear safe in this Congress.

The Democrats' video leaves out a number of other GOP senators who have also backed repealing subsidies in the past -- and whose support could make passage of the repeal a close vote, at least in the Senate. A majority of the House is all but certain to oppose such a measure.

Besides Collins, Kirk and Thune, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) also voted for an energy bill in 2007 that would have repealed some $22 billion in subsidies to pay for clean energy innovations. The oil subsidy portion of that bill was stripped before it passed the Senate.

Sen. Collins' spokesman Kevin Kelley was happy to note the senator's previous support for repealing subsidies, but said she was still reviewing the new proposal.

"While eliminating or reducing these tax breaks may be good tax policy and help with deficit reduction, the Democrats' proposal will have no impact on the price that consumers pay at the pump," Kelley wrote in an email. "By contrast, Senator Collins' work with Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Maria Cantwell to curb excessive speculation in the energy futures market would have an impact on oil prices."

A spokeswoman for Sen. Murkowski emphasized that her boss only voted for ending the oil subsidies once, in a procedural move, expecting she would try to stop the repeal later.

"Sen. Murkowski does not support singling out oil and gas companies for increased taxes," she added.

A spokeswoman for Hatch had a similar response, saying he only voted 'Yes" to the procedural vote, a 59 to 40 cloture vote that fell one short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. He does not support the Democrats' new repeal effort, she said.

The other senators' offices did not respond to email requests seeking to learn whether they would still favor repealing oil industry subsidies.

The industry is estimated to have earned some $1 trillion in profits over the last decade.

This story has been updated to include comment from Sens. Collins' and Murkowski's offices.