Heritage blasts ‘union buyoff’ in oil export bill

A major conservative lobbying group is blasting House Republicans for inserting into a crude oil export bill a provision to increase payments to certain unionized maritime shipping companies.

Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation, said the bill’s funding increase to the Maritime Security Program (MSP) “has entangled good policy in corporate welfare and a $500 million labor union buyoff.”

The money would increase the maritime program’s funding dramatically, and the largest chunk of the funding would go to subsidiaries of Netherlands-based Maersk Group, Heritage wrote in a blog post.

“If the 61.3 percent increase in MSP funding was truly a matter of national security, there is every reason to expect it would have been included in the defense bill that the Senate is expected to clear later this week,” Heritage wrote. “Instead, reminiscent of the earmarking days, taxpayer money is being used to literally buy votes.”

The House is planning to vote Friday on the bill to overturn the 40-year-old restrictions on exporting crude oil from the United States.

Heritage has not yet decided whether to designate the bill as a “key vote,” which would make it part of the group’s scorecard, a widely used measure of lawmakers’ conservatism.

The maritime program regularly pays a fleet of privately owned, United States-flagged ships with union crews in exchange for a promise that the United States could use the ships if needed for military purposes.

The new money was inserted into the bill sometime before the House Rules Committee posted it on Monday.

It appears aimed at increasing Democratic support for the bill. Some Democrats have complained that opening the domestic oil market to the world would increase oil prices, hurting oil refiners and the shipping companies that bring crude to the refiners.

But the move could backfire and cause conservative Republicans to drop support if enough lawmakers agree with Heritage.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the export bill’s sponsor, defended the new provision, saying the House Armed Services Committee, which usually oversees the maritime program, approved of it.

“I think it helps the bill. It helps our military posture, it’s paid for, it’s not mandatory,” Barton said. “I don’t see the negative. You’ve got to look pretty hard to find the negative.”

Barton seemed surprised at Heritage’s position, saying that the benefits of oil exports, such as competing on the world stage and potentially hurting oil producers such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, should receive conservative support.

“I don’t see how you can be against that from a conservative standpoint,” he said.

Barton said he does not plan to remove the provision, and he does not believe it’ll hurt the bill’s chances of passing.