In dueling, back-to-back votes, the Senate this week is taking up two oil bills, both expected to fall short on votes but score big in getting out a partisan message for 2012 campaigns.
Senate Democrats voted on Tuesday to strip the top five oil companies of tax breaks worth some $21 billion over 10 years, with the savings to go to paying down the deficit. Republicans will respond on Wednesday with a bill to boost oil production by extending leases affected by President Obama’s drilling moratorium after the Gulf oil spill.
While the Tuesday bill fell short of the 60 votes it needed to proceed, it was intended to send a message: Republicans would rather help Big Oil than cut deficits or meet the needs of struggling Americans.
“This evening’s vote is about values,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada after a caucus luncheon on Tuesday. “[Republicans] can continue to defend the oil companies or recognize that we have to do something about the deficit.”
Republicans charged that the measure amounted to a tax increase that would raise the price of gasoline, export American jobs, and increase dependence on foreign oil. “Democrats want to find less [oil] or tax more,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee.
The Republican bill Wednesday is also expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to proceed. But it, too, is intended to send a message that Republicans are the champions of increasing domestic oil production.
The bill would require the Interior Department to act within 60 days on drilling permit applications or see the permits approved automatically.
Mr. Obama on Saturday announced that his administration would be extending oil leases affected by the moratorium, but Republicans say he wasn’t clear on the details. “Which leases will be extended? For how long? It’s unclear,” added Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas. “Our bill makes sure that all Gulf-impacted leases are extended.”
“It’s summertime symbolic politics,” he says. “It’s part of a storymaking process, intended for television audiences, that the parties are engaged in, and legislation that won’t pass is a good way to do it.”