By Mike Lillis - 04/28/11 06:01 PM EDT
As the country's largest oil companies report near-record profits, the office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) rejected on Thursday Democratic calls to consider legislation eliminating billions of dollars in tax breaks for the same corporations.
“The Speaker wants to increase the supply of American energy to lower gas prices and create millions of American jobs," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email. "Raising taxes will not do that."
Steel’s comments came in response to a letter from 28 House Democrats urging Boehner to stage an up-or-down vote on legislation ending roughly $8 billion in oil subsidies annually. President Obama is pushing to eliminate $4 billion in tax breaks each year.
"With gas prices on the rise, we would welcome the opportunity to show our constituents that Congress is ready to stop wastefully subsidizing some of the most profitable businesses in the world and instead use that money to reduce the deficit and invest in real relief from high gas prices," the Democrats wrote to Boehner in the April 28 letter, which was spearheaded by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).
The lawmakers were hoping to cash in on Boehner's suggestion earlier in the week that he's open to ending some of those subsidies.
"They're gonna pay their fair share in taxes, and they should," Boehner told ABC News Monday, adding that the biggest oil companies don't "need to have the oil depletion allowances" – one of the subsidies the Democrats want to eliminate.
Yet Boehner's position was contradictory, as he told ABC in the same interview that he won't support any tax increases to rein in the nation's soaring deficits – a message reiterated by his spokesman Thursday.
Explaining that contradiction to Greenwire on Tuesday, Steel said Boehner "simply wasn't going to take the bait and fall into the trap of defending 'Big Oil' companies."
Instead, Boehner and the Republicans are urging Obama to open more of the country to oil drilling and exploration.
"If we began to allow more permits for oil and gas production, it would send a signal to the market that America's serious about moving toward energy independence," Boehner told ABC.
Fueling the debate, Exxon Mobil Corp. on Thursday reported a $10.7 billion profit for the first three months of the year: a 69 percent jump over the same period in 2010.
Democratic leaders have pounced on the news, arguing that companies earning such substantial profits need no additional help from taxpayers.
"There is no reason American taxpayers should subsidize Big Oil's profits," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday in a statement.
"This week, Speaker Boehner said that oil companies should pay their fair share; it’s now time for him to make good on that statement and schedule a vote next week on ending taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil," she said.