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Boehner backs off on ending oil subsidies

April 27, 2011 at 4:30 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, April 27 (UPI) -- House Speaker John Boehner backed off from saying he'd look at cutting multibillion-dollar U.S. oil firm grants after President Barack Obama lauded his remark.

Boehner's office said Obama was off base when he sent a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday saying he was "heartened" Boehner, R-Ohio, told ABC News oil companies were partly to blame for high gasoline prices and cutting their subsidies was "certainly something we should be looking at."

"We are in a time when the federal government's short on revenues," Boehner told the network Monday. "We need to control spending, but we need to have revenues to get the government moving. [Oil companies] ought to be paying their fair share."

Obama's letter said Congress should "take immediate action to eliminate unwarranted tax breaks for the oil and gas industry and use the dollars to invest in clean energy."

The tax breaks, many designed to encourage oil exploration, cost taxpayers more than $4 billion a year in lost revenue.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., applauded Boehner for "see[ing] the light" on the "insanity of providing subsidies to profit-soaked big oil companies."

A Boehner spokesman rejected Obama's proposal, saying it would "simply raise taxes and increase the price at the pump."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "Immediate action means what it says, which is when Congress comes back, let's take action legislatively to eliminate those subsidies.

"It's hard to argue that, given where the price of oil is now, that there's a need for subsidies of the oil and gas industry," he said.

None of the so-called supermajor oil companies -- BP PLC, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., ExxonMobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and France's Total SA -- had any comment.

The companies announce their profits this week.

Regular gas in the United States currently averages $3.87 a gallon, AAA said. This is up 37 percent since January and more than double since Obama took office.

Seven in 10 respondents to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday said high pump prices hurt them financially, with more than four in 10 saying the hardship was "serious."

The poll of 1,001 U.S. adults, conducted April 14 to 17, had a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.

ABC News asked the 10 members of Congress who received the most campaign contributions from the oil industry in the last election if they'd be willing to cut the tax breaks.

Most did not immediately respond, ABC said. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he'd be open to eliminating tax breaks only if tax rates were also lowered.

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