WASHINGTON - Ignoring a national outcry against tax breaks for Big Oil, Senate Republicans began a filibuster yesterday to block the stripping of those subsidies.
Democrats, falling eight votes short of the 60 needed to move on the bill, responded by declaring they will now insist that eliminating oil company tax breaks to generate billions of dollars in revenue must be part of any future agreement to raise the federal debt limit.
A review of federal campaign contribution reports reveals that the 48 senators who sided with the oil companies received over $21 million in contributions from them while the 52 senators who voted to end the subsidies received only $5.4 million in contributions.
"We have to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough,'" said Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota. "While oil prices are gouging the pocketbooks of American families, these companies are on a pace for a record profit this year."
The bill the GOP is filibustering would eliminate five different tax breaks given to the oil multinationals, yielding $21 billion in revenue over 10 years. The companies the bill is directed at are BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and Conoco Phillips.
President Obama gave strong backing to the supporters of the now-filibustered bill. "The administration believes that, at a time when it is working with the Congress on proposals to reduce federal deficits, the nation cannot afford to maintain these wasteful subsidies," the White House said.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the vote showed the true Republican colors.
"Instead of defending oil companies, Republicans should be defending the American taxpayer," he said.
Those taxpayers, if polls are to be believed, are moving further and further away from the positions held by the oil companies.
As the battle proceeded on Capitol Hill yesterday and as fuel prices across the nation continued soaring to near record levels, a new poll showed a majority of Americans support another Obama Administration proposal to raise nationwide vehicle efficiency standards to 60 miles per gallon by 2025. The poll and the report were done by the Consumer Federation of America.
The current standard is 27.5 mpg, with the requirement moving to 35.5 mpg by 2016.
"Concern about volatile gasoline prices and support for higher standards is driven by the huge and rising bite gas expenditures are taking from household budgets - from less than $2,000 in 2009 to more than $3,000 this year," said Mark Cooper, the consumer federation's research director and energy expert.
In the survey, 62 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of Democrats supported doubling fuel efficiency standards - illustrating that when oil companies are seen as fleecing them, people will support energy efficiency, conservation and even government regulation.
In addition, a Politico Background poll showed that oil and gas companies are getting most of the blame for rising energy prices and, contrary to GOP hopes, President Obama is not being blamed.
Almost 40 percent blamed the companies and half that percentage, 20 percent, blamed exporting nations. Eleven percent blamed the prices on the "economic cycle." Only 12 percent said President Obama should be blamed.
Republicans don't have enough votes to get the Big Oil energy plan adopted by the House recently through the Senate.
The GOP plan allows rapid expansion of off-shore drilling by setting deadlines for several lease sales and mandating fast action on industry drilling permit requests.
Photo: " Instead of defending oil companies, Republicans should be defending the American taxpayer," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared when Republicans launched their filibuster. May 17. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)