WASHINGTON — Amid rising gasoline prices at the pump, President Barack Obama urged congressional leaders Tuesday to take steps to repeal oil industry tax breaks, reiterating a call he made in his 2012 budget proposal earlier this year. The White House conceded his plan would do nothing in the short term to lower gas prices.
The president wrote a letter to the bipartisan congressional leadership on Tuesday, a day after Republican House Speaker John Boehner said he was willing to "take a look at" repealing the multibillion-dollar tax subsidies enjoyed by the major oil companies.
Rising gas prices have become a political weight for the White House, with polls showing that as the cost rises at the pump, the president's approval ratings have slipped. Obama has increasingly sought to display action on oil, even as he acknowledges that there is no immediate answer to stem costs
"High oil and gasoline prices are weighing on the minds and pocketbooks of every American family," Obama wrote. But he also added that "there is no silver bullet to address rising gas prices in the short term."
Obama's proposal, spelled out in his past two budget plans, would eliminate a number of tax breaks for oil companies that would generate an estimated $4 billion a year in additional revenue.
The tax breaks — some in place since the 1920s — have survived multiple attempts to repeal them in the face of heavy oil industry lobbying.
The Republican response to the president's letter was dismissive.
A Boehner spokesman, Brendan Buck, said Tuesday that Obama's suggestions "would simply raise taxes and increase the price at the pump." Buck said that Boehner's willingness to examine a subsidy did not mean he was advocating its repeal.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said: "The president's latest call to raise taxes on U.S. energy is as predictable as it is counterproductive."
Obama's letter was addressed to Boehner, McConnell, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Blaming the subsidies on "outdated tax laws," Obama said that money obtained from repealing the breaks should be spent on clean energy initiatives to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
On Monday, Boehner told ABC News that the government is low on revenues and that oil companies "ought to be paying their fair share."
"We certainly ought to take a look at it," Boehner said. "We're at a time when the federal government's short on revenues. We need to control spending but we need to have revenues to keep the government moving."
But Boehner made no commitment to repealing the subsidies. "I want to know what impact this is going to have on job creation in America," he told ABC.
Obama, in his letter, said he was "heartened" by Boehner's remarks. "Our political system has for too long avoided and ignored this important step, and I hope we can come together in a bipartisan manner to get it done."
White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed suggestions that Obama's letter was motivated by the potential effect of rising gas prices on Obama's political prospects.
"I don't think when somebody sticks the credit card in the pump or pays a cashier the cash for a tank of gas that they're thinking about an election in 2012," he said.