President Obama urged Congress Thursday to vote in the coming weeks to repeal billions in oil industry tax breaks in an attempt to parry growing Republican attacks on the White House over high gas prices.
“I am asking Congress to eliminate this oil industry giveaway right away,” Obama said during a speech at Nashua Community College in swing-state New Hampshire.
“I want them to vote on this in the next few weeks. Let’s put every single member of Congress on record.”
Still, Obama is betting that the plan will resonate with the public amid high gas prices and soaring oil company profits.
"Every time you fill up the gas tank, they’re making money," Obama said, referring to oil companies.
Republicans quickly blasted Obama's plan to eliminate oil industry tax breaks Thursday.
“A freshman-year economics student could tell you that increasing taxes on energy production would make gas prices go up, not down," an aide to House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE (R-Ohio) said in an email. "With energy costs already threatening our recovery, that’s not a very good idea.”
The GOP hopes to pin voter anger over high gas prices on Obama. They argue Obama hasn’t done enough to expand domestic drilling and criticize his rejection of the Keystone oil XL pipeline as contributing to higher prices.
Gas prices are averaging $3.73 per gallon, according to AAA. That’s up about 12 cents from this time last week and 35 cents from this time last year.
Thursday’s speech was Obama's second high-profile energy speech in as many weeks, signaling that the White House is conscious of the fact that soaring gas prices could hurt Obama at the polls this November.
To counter GOP arguments, Obama tried Thursday to paint Republicans who oppose eliminating the tax breaks as puppets of the oil industry.
“You can either stand up for the oil companies, or you can stand up for the American people,” Obama said. “You can keep subsidizing a fossil fuel that’s been getting taxpayer dollars for a century, or you can place your bets on a clean energy future.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders and Schumer are right: Ellison for DNC chair The Hill's 12:30 Report Hopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs MORE (D-Nev.) signaled Thursday that he’s open to voting on legislation to repeal oil industry tax breaks.
“Well, we’ve done it before. No reason not to do it now,” he told The Hill in the Capitol.
Obama also sought to protect himself on the Keystone issue by highlighting his support for TransCanada's plans to carry oil from Oklahoma to Texas as part of the broader Keystone XL pipeline.
"Just this week, we announced that we’ll do whatever we can to help speed the construction of a pipeline in Oklahoma that will relieve a bottleneck of oil that needs to get to the Gulf — something that will help create jobs and encourage more production," Obama said.
Obama has insisted that the decision to reject the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline was not based on the merits, and has previously blamed Republicans for forcing the administration to weigh in on the project within 60 days under a provision in a package to extend the payroll tax cut.
Obama also touted his energy record, including efforts to expand oil-and-gas production both offshore and onshore.
Much of the address echoed the themes of an energy speech he delivered last week in Florida at the University of Miami, where he alleged that Republicans are playing politics with gas prices.
He stressed that there are no quick fixes for high gas prices, dismissing plans by Republicans — both in Congress and on the campaign trail — to lower prices at the pump. “That’s just not how it works,” Obama said.
Federal policymakers have few options to lower gas prices in the short term, according to experts. Gas prices are largely tethered to oil prices, which are set on global markets. Even a dramatic expansion of domestic oil-and-gas leasing would have little short-term effect on gas prices, they say. But Obama said he is directing his administration to look for ways to give consumers relief at the pump in the short term.
The president again called for an “all-of-the-above” energy plan that includes reduced dependence on foreign oil, expanded domestic oil and gas production, increased vehicle fuel efficiency and greater investments in renewable energy.
Obama called on his supporters to press their member of Congress to eliminate the tax breaks.
"So I’m asking everyone here today, and everyone watching at home, to let your members of Congress know where you stand," he said. "Will you do that?"
—This story was updated at 2:20 p.m.