Americans don't expect the oil industry to help reduce the budget deficit, the CEO of Chevron told Congress Thursday as lawmakers consider cutting billions in government subsidies to big oil companies.
"I don't think American people want shared sacrifice," John Watson, CEO of Chevron, said at a Senate Finance committee hearing today. "I think they want shared prosperity."
"I'm not out of touch at all," said Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil. "We do understand the big picture. We do understand the enormous challenges confronting the American people with respect to this enormous deficit that has to be dealt with."
But Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the oil companies' unwillingness to turn over their tax subsidies showed they were "out of touch."
"I think you're out of touch, deeply profoundly out of touch and deeply and profoundly committed to sharing nothing," Rockefeller said. "You never lose. You've never lost. You always prevail."
Senate Democrats pounded executives from the country's five largest and most profitable oil companies – BP America, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell – about accepting taxpayer subsidies while gas prices continue to rise.
"I find it hard to understand how you can come here before this committee and the American people and say, when you are projected to make $125 billion in profits this year," Sen. Bob Menendez, D- N.J., said. "That somehow the loss of $2 billion a year, which means you only make $123 billion in profits, is somehow so punishing, somehow not part of shared sacrifice, somehow you need to go back at them at the pump to make up for it."
It is all part of an effort by Democrats to push a new bill that would scrap tax breaks for the five companies, the biggest and most profitable ones in the country. Democrats want to cut about $2 billion per year in tax subsidies for the companies and use the savings to pay down the nation's soaring federal deficit.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pointed to a 2005 hearing where the CEOs of the major oil companies said incentives were not needed for oil and gas companies to conduct exploration.
"Conditions today were pretty much like they were in 2005," Wyden said. "I just can't understand how even if you account for all the possibilities in the world how you can make the case that you need these industry-specific incentives when oil is at $10 a barrel when you told me you didn't need them at $55."
But the oil executives clung to the belief that cuts to their tax subsidies would be unfair and would stifle job creation and economic growth.
"It is not simply that they are misinformed and discriminatory. But they are counterproductive," Tillerson said.
"Don't punish our industry for doing its job well," Watson said.
The panel's top Republican Orrin Hatch rose to the defense of the oil executives, calling the hearing a "dog and pony" show.
"If you're going to do this you should treat them fairly along with all the other companies that receive some type of tax expenditures," Hatch said. "I don't want them mistreated just because they're an industry that people hate and they're supposed to be 'big.'"
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., challenged the oil executives by asking if other initiatives, such as student loans, should be sacrificed instead of gas companies' subsidies when deciding how to reduce the national deficit.
"Do you think that your subsidy is more important than the financial aid we give to students to go to college?" Schumer asked.