Despite the political fallout from the continuing Gulf Coast oil disaster, and rhetoric about accountability for oil companies, 22 Senate Democrats crossed over to join a united GOP to defeat a measure aimed at stripping big oil companies of their generous federal tax breaks.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ amendment died Tuesday on a lopsided 35-61 vote. The Vermont independent’s proposal would have repealed $35 billion in oil and gas industry tax breaks. Sanders argued such taxpayer-funded giveaways to the oil companies were foolish while the energy giants had reported $750 billion in profit in the last decade.
“Some of the most profitable corporations in America pay zero federal taxes and in fact get a tax rebate,” Sanders said in a Senate floor speech ahead of the vote. Sanders had proposed his repeal as an amendment to the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act currently under debate in the Senate.
The chairman of the Senate Green Jobs and the New Economy Subcommittee, Sanders also has complained that the federal government is doing much more to subsidize fossil fuels than it is to promote cleaner energy sources.
Although losing the vote, Sanders did attract the top three members of the Senate Democratic leadership, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, to support his repeal.
Sanders himself had predicted that it would be difficult to kill tax breaks for an industry so influential in Washington.
But the loss of so many Democrats is remarkable given the tough talk from so many of them in recent weeks directed toward BP and its role in the Gulf Coast oil spill and a stated desire to hold the company, and others like it, accountable for their action.
That so many Democrats defected is also notable because President Obama also supports a repeal of the Big Oil tax breaks, and has proposed eliminating them himself as part of his overall federal budget plan.
Conservative Democrats, and Democrats from oil-producing states, rejected the Sanders amendment, as might have been expected.
More unexpected is that the two key authors of the Senate’s pending clean energy and climate legislation, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), both also voted the Sanders amendment down, too.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.