WASHINGTON - British Petroleum’s billion-dollar increase in profits during the first three months of this year has added further fuel to partisan debate in Congress over energy policy and tax breaks for oil companies.
A year ago, BP’s Macondo well exploded and toppled into the Gulf of Mexico, triggering one of the worst oil spills in the nation’s history. The company’s announcement today that it had earned $1.1 billion more in profits in the first quarter of this year than the same period in 2010 earned sharp criticism from US Representative Edward J. Markey of Malden. ConocoPhillips also announced about $1 billion more in profits over that period last year.
“When BP makes billions in profits, even after the year they just had, you know it’s time to cap the gusher of tax breaks that have been subsidizing the biggest oil companies for decades,” said Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
Tax breaks for oil companies have been a source of partisan sniping since House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio told ABC News in an interview Monday that Congress should look at tax breaks for oil companies, which President Obama and Congressional Democrats want to repeal.
“We certainly ought to take a look at it,” he said, adding a moment later: “We need to control spending but we need to have revenues to keep the government moving. And they ought to be paying their fair share.”
The statements provided an unusual opening for Democrats. President Obama promptly wrote to Congress urging an end to the tax breaks. The president specifically cited Boehner’s comments, saying he was “heartened” by Boehner’s words. Senate Democrats also jumped on the comments, with Senator Charles Schumer of New York saying that high gas prices had caused Boehner “to see the light.”
Senate Republicans have voiced opposition to repealing those breaks, calling them tax increases, and Boehner’s office has had to double back on the speaker's statements, saying did not support the repeal of the breaks and that he only said what he did to avoid being pegged as on the side of oil companies.
"The Speaker made clear in the interview that raising taxes was a non-starter, and he’s told the President that. He simply wasn’t going to take the bait and fall into the trap of defending 'Big Oil' companies," spokesman Michael Steel said in an emailed statement.
"We'll look at any reasonable policy that lowers gas prices. Unfortunately, what the President has suggested so far would simply raise taxes and increase the price at the pump.”
In the backdrop of the back and forth, House Republicans have said that they will take up three energy bills in the coming weeks. All of the bills are sponsored by Washington state Representative Hastings, the Republican chairman of the Natural Resources Committee.
Theo Emery can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @temery.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.