Democrats' plan: End Big Oil's tax breaks to ease deficit

By Carl Hulse

New York Times News Service

Published: Sunday, May 8 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

Some congressional Democrats, including Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, have proposed using the revenue from the elimination of the tax breaks to promote alternative fuels and provide incentives to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles. Obama has made similar suggestions, and in his regular address over the weekend he again called for more emphasis on the development of clean energy.

But top Democrats said that reallocating the money that way would allow Republicans to accuse Democrats of picking winners and losers in the energy industry. At the same time, the strict focus on the deficit could cause unrest among Democrats who support alternative energy projects.

Last week's sudden dip in oil prices, which could show up the pump soon, might also sap momentum behind the tax measure.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, noted that Democrats typically criticize oil companies when gas prices are high. He pointed to remarks made by Democrats at a 1974 Senate hearing that echoed the current talk of soaring profits and industry bonanzas.

"These guys need a new playbook," Stewart said.

But Democrats said they see themselves as occupying the political and policy high ground in this case. They noted that top Republicans like Speaker John A. Boehner and Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, have suggested that industry subsidies might have to be curbed.

Even talk of Republican delaying tactics does not seem to disturb Democrats who are eager to engage in a fight about oil.

"I am happy to have this debate on the floor for days," Menendez said.

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