By Ben Geman - 05/13/11 04:04 PM EDT
The Democratic senator leading the charge to strip billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks said Democrats will “insist” that ending the subsidies be part of any legislation to raise the debt ceiling.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Thursday evening that the debt ceiling is among the options for moving the plan to remove incentives for oil giants including Exxon, BP and Shell.
The timing of a vote to raise the debt ceiling is unclear but is expected this summer before Aug. 2, when the Treasury Department has warned it will no longer be able to meet all its financial obligations.
Menendez’s comments show that Democrats are making the oil taxes a top political priority, and came on the same day that top executives with Exxon, BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips and Chevron faced a grilling before the Senate Finance Committee.
Menendez is the lead sponsor of a Democratic leadership-backed plan to nix an estimated $21 billion over 10 years in industry incentives. The plan would steer the savings into deficit reduction.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a test vote on the oil-tax plan Wednesday.
Democrats see a political opening on the matter amid high industry profits and high gasoline prices. But Senate votes last year and in February to strip industry incentives fell well short of passage.
Most Republicans and some Democrats — including Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) — oppose the plans. Critics say they would stymie domestic energy production by raising costs.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) — a member of the Democratic leadership team — said earlier this week that if the bill doesn’t pass as a stand-alone measure, Democrats will try and attach repeal of the tax breaks to broader deficit-reduction legislation.