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U.S. Senate votes on ending oil subsidies

U.S. Senate votes on ending oil subsidies

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Senate Democrats attempting to repeal subsidies for oil companies were shot down by a Republican filibuster. The House GOP targeted military adoption of renewable energy.

Kabuki is now showing in Washington. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

It's kabuki time again in Washington. Gas prices are rising, and the Senate is taking action: on whether it should even hold a vote. The Senate today attempted to vote on whether to continue subsidizing oil companies, but failed to break a GOP led filibuster.

The vote for cloture was 51-47. Under normal circumstances, that would have been enough votes to pass a bill. That was before filibustering became a regular occurrence; a simple majority no longer counts for anything.

Some conservative Democrats joined Republicans, including Mark Begich, Mary Landrieu (pictured), Ben Nelson, and Jim Webb. Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snow crossed the isle voting "aye."

Enter the kabuki. Senate Democrats, and the White House, knew that the vote would fail. It's all about scoring political points. A new CNN poll released today found that 55 percent of Americans fault oil companies for high gas prices. So, why not kick them a little?

President Obama capitalized on the public's sentiment, daring Senate Republicans to side with oil companies. This builds a political argument around the President's call for eliminating the subsidies during his State of the Union speech. The President said in the Rose Garden:

Today, Members of Congress have a simple choice to make. They can stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people.
Right now, the biggest oil companies are raking in record profits—profits that go up every time folks like these pull into a gas station. But on top of these record profits, oil companies are also getting billions a year in taxpayer subsidies—a subsidy they’ve enjoyed year after year for the last century.

Think about that. It's like hitting the American people twice. You're already paying a premium at the pump right now. And on top of that, Congress thinks it's a good idea to send billions more of your tax dollars to the oil industry?

It's not like these are companies that can't stand on their own. Last year, the three biggest U.S. oil companies took home more than $80 billion in profit. Exxon pocketed nearly $4.7 million every hour. And when the price of oil goes up, prices at the pump go up, and so do these companies' profits. In fact, one analysis shows that every time gas goes up by a penny, these companies usually pocket another $200 million in quarterly profits. Meanwhile, these companies pay a lower tax rate than most other companies on their investments—partly because we're giving them billions in tax giveaways every year.

Republicans have done some political maneuvering of their own. The House held a late morning meeting, grilling the Pentagon on its broadening adoption of renewable energy. GOP Presidential candidates have recently taken to mocking anything green and have questioned the reasoning behind the military's renewables policy.

More on that hearing later. Now, will both parties take a bow? The curtain is being drawn for the day.

update: Here is a graphic that the White House is sharing on social media sites.

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure