Speaker of the House John Boehner rejected calls by Democrats for a vote on legislation to repeal tax breaks and subsidies for oil companies Thursday.
“The Speaker wants to increase the supply of American energy to lower gas prices and create millions of American jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email to The Daily Caller. “Raising taxes will not do that.”
Boehner’s decision comes after a group of 28 Democrats called on him to hold an up-or-down vote on legislation that would end about $8 billion in oil subsidies each year.
“With gas prices on the rise, we would welcome the opportunity to show our constituents that Congress is ready to stop wastefully subsidizing some of the most profitable businesses in the world and instead use that money to reduce the deficit and invest in real relief from high gas prices,” the Democrats wrote to Boehner.
Boehner also had some harsh words for Obama Thursday following the release of weak GDP figures. “Skyrocketing gas prices continue to batter families and small businesses, and the Obama administration is making the problem worse by blocking more American energy production,” said Boehner in a statement.
The Ohio Republican, though, has been walking back comments he made earlier this week that signaled he would be open to ending oil subsidies. Oil companies will “pay their fair share in taxes and they should,” said Boehner in an interview on ABC. On ending the subsidies, the Speaker said it is “certainly something that we oughta be looking at.”
The White House immediately seized on Boehner’s comments and sent a letter to congressional leaders urging action.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California was among the Democrats who called on Boehner to act. “There is no reason American taxpayers should subsidize Big Oil’s profits,” she said in a statement Thursday. “This week, Speaker Boehner said that oil companies should pay their fair share; it’s now time for him to make good on that statement and schedule a vote next week on ending taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil.”
Gas prices have risen sharply in recent weeks. And while the Obama Administration and some lawmakers are targeting oil companies, attention has also been turned to the role speculators play in driving up prices at the pump. The Department of Justice, in fact, announced a task force last week to investigate fraud and price gauging in the oil market.
In a conference call Thursday with the Center for American Progress (CAP), Michael Greenberger, former director of the Division of Trading and Markets at the Commodity Futures and Trading Commission (CFTC), stressed the impact speculators have had on gas prices.
“Ever since May of 2008 when we had the last bubble of oil prices and gasoline – there has been evidence…demonstrating that speculating in the price of oil – betting on upward direction of price – sends a signal to the market and has substantial impact on upward price of oil.”
Oil companies release first quarter profits this week, which will likely only cause the debate over high gas prices to intensify. Exxon, for example, reported their largest first-quarter net income increase in eight years with $10.7 billion, a 69 percent increase over last year.