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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 03/27/2012

Senate set to fight over oil company tax cuts

(Hasan Jamali - Associated Press)
For weeks Senate Republicans have been itching for a fight over rising gas prices and for months Senate Democrats have been itching for a fight over ending subsidies for large oil companies.

Game on.

It boils down to this: The Senate on Tuesday is set to debate a bill to repeal tax cuts for the oil industry — surprising Democrats, who expected Republicans to block the move, but now face at least a day of deliberations on the merits of tax cuts, the cost of gasoline and the nation’s energy policy. The bill also would authorize tax credits for alternative energy resources. Democrats believe that ending the tax cuts for big oil and approving new tax credits will drive down the price of gas and pay down the federal deficit. Republicans disagree, believing that oil companies will raise gas prices to pay for higher production costs if the tax cut is repealed.

“The American people are sick and tired of paying ridiculously high gasoline prices and then paying Big Oil again with subsidies,” the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Monday. “That money is better spent keeping our economy going and developing alternatives to oil that will create competition in the marketplace and reduce gas prices.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). (Marlon Correa)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) disagreed: “Democrats will propose raising taxes on American energy manufacturers — something common sense and basic economics tell us will lead to even higher prices at the pump.”

The tax cuts would save $24 billion in the next decade and Menendez said the savings would be put towards the alternative energy tax breaks and paying down the federal deficit.

The White House backs the measure, noting in a statement that “the nation simply cannot afford these wasteful subsidies”and that President Obama has proposed repealing the tax cuts in his last three budget proposals.

Make no mistake: Republicans vehemently oppose ending the big oil tax cuts, but relish the opportunity to spend at least 30 hours of Senate time discussing their concerns with Obama’s energy proposals and his continued opposition to quickly building the Keystone XL pipeline.

By the end of Tuesday, senators likely will determine whether to keep fighting over gas prices — something both sides might want — or they may move on to fixing the U.S. Postal Service, a less politically advantageous issue that Democrats anticipated spending most of this week discussing.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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