President Obama used his bully pulpit from the White House Rose Garden on Thursday to press Congress to end tax breaks for oil companies, seeking to tap Americans’ frustration with gas prices in a populist pitch that has become a centerpiece of his re-election strategy.
Obama told lawmakers who were scheduled to vote Thursday on legislation that would end oil industry subsidies that they could either "stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people.”
“Right now, the biggest oil companies are raking in record profits – profits that go up every time folks like these pull into a gas station,” he said. “But on top of these record profits, oil companies are also getting billions a year in taxpayer subsidies – a subsidy they’ve enjoyed year after year for the last century.”
Republicans immediately shot back at Obama and congressional Democrats, saying ending the tax breaks for the industry would only worsen pain at the pump for cash-strapped families.
"That was their brilliant plan on how to deal with gas prices: raise taxes on energy companies; when gas is already hovering around $4 a gallon, then block consideration of anything else — just to make sure gas prices don’t go anywhere but up,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Despite Obama's pitch, a spokesman for McConnell said the Senate would likely block the subsidies bill on a “bipartisan vote.”
Obama said the money slated for the tax breaks should instead go towards nascent green-energy technologies. However, as Republicans pointed out, Obama voted for the very tax breaks he is now decrying when he was in the Senate.
The president counters that times have since changed.
“With record profits and rising production, I’m not worried about the big oil companies,” he said. “I think it’s time they got by without more help from taxpayers who are having a tough enough time paying their bills and filling up their tanks.”