Ahead of Vote on Scrapping Big Oil Tax Breaks, Senate Dems Call for Investigation into Potential Price Fixing

By Matt Jaffe

May 17, 2011 12:07pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:

In the latest move by Senate Democrats to target Big Oil for high gas prices, Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, and Chuck Schumer, D-NY, today called for the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into potential price fixing by oil refiners.

“The irony is we’ve got more rigs drilling domestically than we’ve had in many many years. We’ve got higher production than we’ve had for a long long time. But they’re exporting more and they’re cutting back on their capacity to deliver more gasoline into the supply chain,” McCaskill said at a press conference this morning on Capitol Hill. “Now that is very hard for me to understand.”

“Price is way up and they’re only operating at 81 percent. Is there a link?” asked Schumer.

“We want the administration to focus on this area right away,” he emphasized.

The request for an FTC probe comes as the Senate is set to hold a procedural vote later today on the Democrats’ bid to scrap tax breaks for the five Big Oil companies. Democrats want to cut around $2 billion a year in tax subsidies for the five companies – Shell, Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips – and use the savings to pay down the federal deficit.

“These companies should be looked into, not lavished with handouts,” Schumer said today.

“The bottom line is we all ought to be able to agree on stopping subsidies to Big Oil that have month after month after month record-breaking profits,” added McCaskill.

However, the Democrats’ bill appears poised to go down to defeat due to widespread Republican opposition – and even some Democratic opposition from senators like Louisiana's Mary Landrieu and Alaska's Mark Begich. Begich last week denounced the bill as “a gimmick” that his party’s leaders were using to make a “good political score,” while Landrieu said the measure was “laughable.”

After the Democrats’ bill gets shot down tonight, tomorrow morning the Senate will vote on the Republicans’ plan to increase off-shore oil production, a measure also destined for defeat. 

On the Senate floor today, the chamber’s top Republican Mitch McConnell ripped the Democrats’ latest moves – from the Big Oil bill to a high-profile Finance Committee hearing last Thursday with the companies’ top executives – as nothing more than “public relations efforts.”

“If President Obama and his party are really serious about lowering gas prices, making us less dependent on foreign oil, and creating the thousands of jobs that American exploration is proven to produce, they would embrace our plan and stop pretending to care about a crisis they have done so much to create and, their latest public relations efforts notwithstanding, continue to ignore,” McConnell said.

 

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