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Oil subsidy bill to move forward, a little, in Senate

Harry Reid
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

A funny thing happened on the Senate floor yesterday: a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to consideration of a bill to end oil and gas company subsidies from the federal government actually passed, 92-4. That wasn't exactly how it was expected to go.

The Senate voted Monday evening, 92 to 4, to proceed with a politically tinged debate on repealing tax subsidies for the oil industry after Republicans called Democrats’ bluff and agreed to take up a bill designed as more of a political statement than a legislative initiative.[...]

Republicans jumped at the chance to thrust energy issues front and center—and to portray Democrats’ response to soaring gasoline prices as raising taxes on oil producers. That, they said, would only raise gas prices further.

Before the vote, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said: “I can’t think of a better way to illustrate how completely out of touch they are on this issue. And that’s why Republicans plan to support moving forward on a debate over this legislation, because it’s a debate the country deserves.”

They didn't actually agree to move to consideration of the actual bill, David Waldman explained this morning, but agreed to "end debate on the question of whether or not to begin debate" on the underlying bill. But what it does is set up a day of Senate blustering—for the Republicans, about the evil of tax hikes; for Democrats, about obscene oil company profits.

Republicans think they can turn this around on Democrats, arguing that the end of some subsidies to oil and gas companies will raise gas prices. Apparently, they agreed to cloture just so that they can have 30 hours to talk about that, and also to put a handful of Democrats, who've previously opposed ending these subsidies, on the spot. Apparently, Sen. Harry Reid is ready to take that on. From his floor remarks this morning (via e-mail):

The country deserves to hear the truth about double dipping by oil companies: they take taxpayer money with one hand and raise prices at the pump with the other hand.

But don’t be fooled by last night’s bipartisan vote.  Senate Republicans would never side with American taxpayers against Big Oil.

It’s against their nature.

They proved it yesterday with rhetoric. And they proved it last year, with a nearly party-line vote against legislation to roll back billions in handouts to oil companies making record profits.

But despite Republican rhetoric, Americans understand it will take more than bumper sticker slogans to stop the pain at the pump.

The cloture vote set up 30 hours of debate on the issue, which could be shortened if the Republicans agree to end debate early and hold the vote on the motion to proceed, the vote that lets them debate more as they inch toward maybe voting on the underlying bill. According to a Senate Democratic aide, Reid intends to move forward with the motion to proceed vote, which could happen as early as today.

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