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 MenendezThe Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see Taiwan deserves to participate in United Nations The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump 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 SandersThe Hill's 12:30 Report Five takeaways from the Montana special election Hillary Clinton targets troubled Trump, divided GOP with new PAC MORE (I-Vt.), Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? MORE (D-Md.), Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyTrump’s travel ban would not have prevented an attack like Manchester Lawmakers reintroduce measure to lift Cuba travel restrictions Majority of Senate supports Cuban tourism bill MORE (D-Vt.), Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTime is now to address infrastructure needs Tom Steyer testing waters for Calif. gubernatorial bid Another day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs 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 McCaskillSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Mnuchin: WH won't double-count economic growth Technology's role in human trafficking cannot be ignored MORE (D-Mo.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownAuthor of Hillbilly Elegy encouraged to run for Senate: report Overnight Finance: Trump moves to begin NAFTA talks | Dems press Treasury chief on taxes, Dodd-Frank | Biz leaders want tax changes to be permanent Mnuchin mum as Dems press for answers on tax reform, Dodd-Frank MORE (D-Ohio.).

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerHow Trump can score a big league bipartisan win on infrastructure Overnight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door GOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill 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 McConnellOvernight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal 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 LandrieuMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Five unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist MORE (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mark BegichMark BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map 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 BidenThe Hill's 12:30 Report Cornell unveils Biden ice cream Biden fuels 2020 speculation 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 BoehnerTrump aide: Boehner is the disaster Boehner: Tax reform is 'just a bunch of happy talk' Lobbying World 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