Senate Dems to Biden: Deficit deal with GOP must kill oil industry tax breaks

Twenty Senate Democrats are ramping up political pressure on the White House to ensure that any deficit-reduction deal with Republicans strips billions of dollars in tax breaks for major oil companies.

The group — led by Sen. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezGMO labeling bill advances in the Senate over Dem objections Overnight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Menendez rails against Puerto Rico bill for 4 hours on floor MORE (D-N.J.) — sent a new letter outlining their stance to Vice President Biden, who is leading talks with Republicans on reaching a deficit-cutting deal needed to secure votes to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

“The American people are demanding to know why they are forced to hand over taxpayer dollars to help oil executives enrich themselves when they're already paying $4.00 for a gallon of gasoline,” the letter circulated Tuesday states.

The letter states that cutting industry tax breaks “must be part of any agreement you reach to raise the debt ceiling and lower the deficit.”

In mid-May the Senate blocked a Democratic bill to repeal $21 billion in tax breaks and apply the savings to deficit reduction. The 52-48 vote was eight shy of the 60 votes needed to advance a bill that would nix incentives for ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and BP.

But the letter argues that the May 17 vote — in which two Republicans joined Democrats — makes the case for insisting on the provision in the negotiations.

It states:

As you work to forge an agreement between the parties to reduce the deficit, we urge you to ensure that this agreement include an end to the billions of dollars in subsidies that oil companies receive. As you know, a bipartisan majority of the Senate voted for legislation to close these loopholes for the Big 5 oil companies, and this mandate cannot be ignored. We all need to make sacrifices to lower the deficit, including the most wealthy and powerful among us.

Menendez had said last week that new outreach to Biden was in the offing.

The White House supports repeal of oil industry tax breaks. Menendez said Tuesday that the new letter does not signal fear that the White House won’t stand firm in the budget talks.

“The letter is not a response to a concern. It is a reaffirmation of the bipartisan Senate vote as well as the administration’s own position,” he said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

Signers include Bernie SandersBernie SandersWalker jabs at Kasich for snubbing GOP convention Dem party chief won't speak at convention Sanders aide: 'Someone needs to be held accountable' for DNC emails MORE (I-Vt.), Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiSenate confirms first black female librarian of Congress Clinton pens tribute to feminist website The Toast Senate Appropriations speeds through spending bills MORE (D-Md.), Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyNBA pulls All-Star Game from NC over bathroom law When America denies citizenship to servicemembers Criminal sentencing bill tests McConnell-Grassley relationship MORE (D-Vt.), Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDem suggests race factored into Obama Senate endorsement Obama, Biden back Kamala Harris in Calif. Senate race Tim Scott says he was targeted by Capitol Police MORE (D-Calif.) and others.

Names on the list includes some of the members who are politically vulnerable in next year’s elections, including Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillWatchdog faults Energy Department over whistleblower retaliation Wagner passes on NRCC bid, backs Stivers Senate Dem: Trump will pick 'handsome' Pence MORE (D-Mo.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownClinton looks to expand electoral map Clinton VP pick could face liberal ire Why Kaine is the right choice for Clinton MORE (D-Ohio.).

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSuper-PAC targets Portman on trade Dem leader urges compromise on FCC set-top box plan Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerThe Trail 2016: Unity at last This week: Congress eyes the exits in dash to recess Former Gillibrand aide wins NY House primary MORE (N.Y.) — a top strategist for Senate Democrats — have also called for repealing the tax breaks as part of a wider deficit deal, but those two and other members of the Democratic leadership team did not sign this letter.

The letter highlights a looming collision with the Republicans, who generally oppose stripping the tax breaks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ky.) said this month Republicans won’t put them on the table in the Biden-led talks.

“That's not the kind of thing we're going to be dealing with here in connection with the serious talks that are going on with the Vice President's group,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on May 15.

But Menendez said Tuesday that Republicans cannot “dictate” what’s in play in the negotiations.

Some Democrats, however, also oppose the effort. Three Senate Democrats — Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mark BegichMark BegichSenate GOP deeply concerned over Trump effect Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (Alaska) — opposed the Democratic oil tax break repeal plan on the Senate floor.

Here is the whole letter to Biden:

The Honorable Joe BidenJoe BidenWhy Kaine is the right choice for Clinton Why Mike Pence is the wrong pick on foreign policy Advisers: Trump's revised tax plan will resemble Ryan's MORE
Vice President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20501
 
Dear Vice President Biden,
 
            As you work to forge an agreement between the parties to reduce the deficit, we urge you to ensure that this agreement include an end to the billions of dollars in subsidies that oil companies receive. As you know, a bipartisan majority of the Senate voted for legislation to close these loopholes for the Big 5 oil companies, and this mandate cannot be ignored. We all need to make sacrifices to lower the deficit, including the most wealthy and powerful among us.
 
Over the last decade, the Big 5 oil companies have raked in nearly $1 trillion in profits and tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. Since 2005, these companies have spent over seven times more on stock buy backs and dividends than they have on oil exploration or efforts to reduce gasoline prices. The American people are demanding to know why they are forced to hand over taxpayer dollars to help oil executives enrich themselves when they're already paying $4.00 for a gallon of gasoline.
 
At the same time, working class families and seniors have had a difficult time making ends meet. Many have seen their homes foreclosed, have seen their jobs downsized, and face daunting prospects for getting back on their feet. But so far, these same people are the only ones who have been asked to sacrifice to lower the deficit by accepting substantial cuts to social programs in the Continuing Resolution.
 
Now, the budget resolution that has passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is asking for many more sacrifices of working class families and seniors. This legislation would end Medicare as we know it, further cut nutrition programs, and cut education programs by nearly 20%.
 
It is time for oil companies to give up the billions in taxpayer subsidies.  Despite the oil companies' expensive disinformation campaign, we know from analyses by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service and the Joint Economic Committee that cutting subsidies will not raise gas prices. What cutting these subsidies will do is help lower the deficit and make a miniscule dent in these companies' enormous profits.
 
That is why a majority of the Senate has embraced cutting oil subsidies as a way to lower the deficit, and it is also why we believe it must be part of any agreement you reach to raise the debt ceiling and lower the deficit. It also appears that House Leadership may be willing to accept such cuts as Speaker BoehnerJohn BoehnerClinton maps out first 100 days The Hill's 12:30 Report Boehner on Cruz: 'Lucifer is back' MORE recently said oil companies "ought to be paying their fair share" and Budget Chairman Ryan has publicly endorsed cutting oil subsidies.
 
Thank you for your tremendous work to help the country deal with its mounting debt. We hope we can all work together, including oil companies, to lower the deficit in an effective and equitable fashion.
           
 
                        Sincerely,
 
 
Menendez

Mikulski
Leahy
Sanders
Shaheen
Franken
Brown (OH)
Reed
Stabenow
Gillibrand
Merkley
Rockefeller
Wyden
Blumenthal
Whitehouse
Lautenberg
Casey
T. Udall
Boxer
McCaskill