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Conservative Senators Echo Big Oil Protests

Conservative lawmakers, right-wing interests, and top executives from the nation’s most lucrative oil companies proved their words fairly interchangeable at a hearing last week on oil-and-gas tax incentives and rising energy prices.

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What’s in a name? Not much when you’re using the same talking points. Conservative lawmakers, right-wing interests, and top executives from the nation’s most lucrative oil companies proved their words fairly interchangeable last week after the Senate Finance Committee’s May 12 hearing on oil-and-gas tax incentives and rising energy prices. The following week, lawmakers chose to keep billions in taxpayer subsidies flowing to these highly profitable businesses.

CEOs from BP p.l.c., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp., and Royal Dutch Shell p.l.c. spent nearly three hours on May 12 defending the indefensible: billions of dollars in annual subsidies for five companies that this quarter celebrated more than $32 billion in profits. But the hearing soon resembled an echo chamber of Big Oil messaging, with Senate Finance Committee Ranking Republican Orrin Hatch (R-UT) assisting.

Few senators have broken from party lines on the issue. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) are two exceptions. Both hail from oil states and they have accepted substantial campaign donations from petroleum interests.

It’s money well spent. Sens. Landrieu and Begich joined Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) on May 17 to reject a bill (the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, S. 940), sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and 28 other senators, that would have eliminated $21 billion in taxpayer handouts for BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell, the country’s five biggest oil companies. Every cent recovered from the measure would have been devoted to deficit reduction.

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