Barbour: Democrats view oil industry as their 'whipping boy'

A proposal by Senate Democrats to strip tax breaks for the largest oil companies will do little to reduce the deficit, and the plan shows that Democrats view the oil industry as their “whipping boy,” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) said Thursday.

Democrats have positioned their bill to slash oil tax breaks for five major oil companies as a deficit-reduction measure, arguing it would save $21 billion over 10 years, or about $2 billion a year.

But Barbour called $21 billion a paltry sum compared to the country’s massive $14 trillion debt.

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“I mention that because it seems to me that [debt reduction] can’t be the real reason” Democrats are pursuing the bill to eliminate the tax breaks, Barbour said during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Obama administration’s response to last year’s BP oil spill. "It doesn’t even touch the deficit,” he added.

Barbour suggested that Democrats view the oil industry as a political target.

“Do I think there are some people that don’t like the oil industry and think it’s a good whipping boy politically? I suspect that,” Barbour said. “But I can’t say what’s inside peoples’ hearts or minds and don’t pretend to.”

Legislation to eliminate tax breaks for ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP failed to garner enough support to pass the Senate last month. 

But a number of Senate Democrats — including members of their leadership team — have called for reviving the proposal as part of broad deficit-reduction deal with Republicans.