Echoing Big Oil’s Protests

Conservative Senators Parrot Industry Talking Points

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.

A Center for American Progress Action Fund analysis found that:

Each senator who voted for Big Oil [on May 17] received on average more than four times as much [money from oil interests] as those who voted to end the subsidies.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) notably parted from the GOP to stand with the majority and oppose corporate welfare for the Big Five. Theirs was a vote for the American people: A recent Wall Street Journal poll found that 74 percent of voters support erasing oil company tax breaks.

Unfortunately, campaign cash had its way and the legislation that would have cut billions in subsidies over the next decade for the oil giants was ultimately defeated in the Senate by a 52-48 vote. A filibuster-proof 60 votes were required to pass it. House Republicans defeated a similar attempt on May 5 by passing a motion, 241-171, on two drilling bills. The continuing trend speaks for itself.

Below are a few side-by-side comparisons of the harmonizing language used by oil executives and their supporters both at the May 12 hearing and elsewhere. To apply Sen. Hatch’s own phrase: “Nothing makes for a kumbaya moment like high gas prices.”

Pay attention, because these same talking points are likely to resurface as the defense of these unnecessary subsidies drags on.

Big Oil says: Big Oil supporters say:

It’s not fair!

Mr. John Watson, chairman of the board and CEO, Chevron Corp.: “What we ask for here is what we look for anywhere we invest—conditions that are not punitive and discriminatory, but stable, transparent and equitable.”

Mr. Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO, Exxon Mobil Corp.: “Removing them for a select few U.S. oil and gas companies is; therefore, nothing less than discriminatory and a punitive tax hike.”

Mr. James Mulva, chairman and CEO, ConocoPhillips: “We felt that tax proposals that are being under consideration were inconsistent with the treatment of all taxpayers in a similar way and highlight…in a discriminatory way different companies for different tax treatment.”

It’s not fair!

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT): “Is it wise to conduct business tax reform on a selective and punitive basis?”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “This goal should be achieved through spending cuts that address the root cause of the deficit, and not through punitive taxation.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA): “But I would just like to add my strong voice to … understand the inherent unfairness in it, the lack of significant deficit reduction, and the fact that it will not, although it is being touted as, it will not reduce gasoline prices by one penny.”

Drill, baby, drill

Mulva: “By drilling, more drilling, we will create jobs and we will create more supply. That’s the best thing we can do to moderate prices.”

Tillerson: “The way to impact the deficit and get more money into the federal government is through more production.”

Watson: “More domestic supply, along with aggressive measures to use energy more wisely, is one of the most effective ways to counter rising energy prices.”

Mr. H. Lamar McKay, chairman and president, BP America Inc.: “The result [of cutting oil subsidies] could be less investment, less production, tighter energy markets, and over time, potentially higher prices for consumers.”

Drill, baby, drill

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ): “I think we do need to increase production. That’s the way to get gas prices down.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK): “Congress can also help drive down gas prices by increasing access to our domestic natural resources.”

Exxon and Starbucks are the same

Tillerson: “Well, if you want to repeal [that subsidy], repeal it for everyone because I’m not sure that the coffee roasters are growing coffee here and exporting coffee. I’m not sure that the newspaper companies are exporting dominantly their newspapers.”

Exxon and Starbucks are the same

Sen. Hatch: “Are we to increase taxes any time a company sees an increase in quarterly profits due to high demand of a commodity … what if an increase in demand for coffee results in Starbucks reporting record profits?”

Don’t make us buy more foreign oil

Mr. Marvin Odum, U.S. president, Shell Oil Company: “If we don’t develop our own energy sources, we will have to accept the costs … of bringing it into this country from places that can be less secure and less stable.

Don’t make us buy more foreign oil

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “[Deleting tax loopholes] will raise the price of gas at the pump, send jobs overseas and make us get even more oil from Hugo Chavez.”

Sen. Hatch: “All of the tax increases we’re talking about today would eliminate incentives to produce oil and gas within the United States, it seems to me. … one possibility might be that these policies will cause the U.S. to become more dependent on imported oil.”

Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK): “The fact is, developing Alaska’s oil and gas resources buys our country decades of energy security by offsetting foreign imports from unfriendly countries."

We own 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves and consume 25 percent—that should be enough!

Watson: “Fortunately, our nation is endowed with abundant supplies of energy, including oil and natural gas.”

Odum: “The U.S. is resource-rich in many ways, especially in oil and gas.”

Tillerson: “Our nation’s enormous untapped energy supplies.”

We own 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves and consume 25 percent—that should be enough!

Sen. Hatch: “Demand [for oil] is and will remain high for the next decade and certainly beyond that. … we certainly have the resources in this country to meet that demand.”

Sen. Hatch: “We have a great number of resources that could be used to promote energy security within the United States. Just recently, geologists have discovered [a] sea of oil that could hold the largest accumulation of oil identified in North America since 1968. They have dubbed it the Kuwait on the prairie.”

Our huge companies won’t be able to compete

Tillerson: “By undermining U.S. competitiveness, they would discourage future investments in energy projects in the United States.”

Mulva: “We would lose projects and opportunities to foreign competitors. Cash flows that would otherwise generate tax revenue here, would instead go elsewhere.”

Watson: “This would make us less competitive internationally and cost U.S. jobs that support our overseas operations.”

Our huge companies won’t be able to compete

Sen. Hatch: “Oil and gas companies would probably drill with or without these tax incentives. But let’s be clear. They would be less likely to do so in the United States.”

Sen. John Barasso (R-WY): “It impacts our competitiveness. Every additional penny that gas prices go up is money that can’t be spent in other parts of the economy.

Oil-above-all energy policy

McKay: “Our nation should be encouraging production of all forms of energy, including oil and natural gas.”

Odum: “But when you face a deficit, be it energy or financial, choices are usually straightforward—get more or use less. And often it is a combination of both that achieves the best results.”

Oil-above-all energy policy

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH): “Committed to an all-of-the-above energy strategy that will expand American energy production and lower costs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create a better environment for job growth.”

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA): “Americans have confronted unnecessarily high energy prices. To create jobs and to protect our long-term interests, we need to adopt an all-of-the-above energy plan.”

Valeri Vasquez is a Special Assistant on the Energy Opportunity policy team at the Center for American Progress. Thanks to Kristen Bartoloni, Researcher, and Daniel J. Weiss, Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy.

See also: