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 right person for State Department is Rudy Giuliani Warren, Menendez question shakeup at Wells Fargo Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal 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 SandersOf principle and compromise: A paradox within America’s political discourse Trump adviser: Sanders would have made for tougher race as Clinton's VP Trump adviser: Clinton/Sanders ticket would've been tougher to beat MORE (I-Vt.), Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiOvernight Cybersecurity: Last-ditch effort to stop expanded hacking powers fails Intel Dems push for info on Russia and election be declassified Senate Dems push Obama for info on Russian election interference MORE (D-Md.), Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyPassing US-Canada preclearance would improve security and economy GOP wants to move fast on Sessions Senate Dems pan talk of short-term spending bill MORE (D-Vt.), Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTrucking riders ‘in the mix’ for short-term spending bill Lawmakers praise defense bill's National Guard bonus fix Schumer’s elevation to leader spells trouble for Democrats 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 McCaskillA Cabinet position for Petraeus; disciplinary actions for Broadwell after affair Defense bill tackles retaliation against military sex assault victims Red-state Dems face tough votes on Trump picks MORE (D-Mo.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownSanders vs. Trump: The battle of the bully pulpit Fight over 'Buy America' provision erupts in Congress Trump’s economic team taking shape MORE (D-Ohio.).

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidTrump gets chance to remake the courts Democrats local party problem Trump flirts with Dems for Cabinet MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerOvernight Finance: Trump takes victory lap at Carrier plant | House passes 'too big to fail' revamp | Trump econ team takes shape Anti-Defamation League: Ellison's past remarks about Israel 'disqualifying' Dems press Trump to keep Obama overtime rule 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 McConnellDriverless car industry embraces Trump’s Transportation pick Trump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington 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 LandrieuFive unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mark BegichMark BegichThe future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map Trump campaign left out of Alaska voter guide 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 BidenObama promotes bipartisan cures bill Democrats miss warning signs, even in blue Maryland Biden to sit down with Colbert next week 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 BoehnerLobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run News Flash: Trump was never going to lock Clinton up 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