In 2005, President George W. Bush, a former oilman, explained that the profit potential in the oil industry drives exploration, not the subsidies: “With $55 oil we don’t need incentives to the oil and gas companies to explore. There are plenty of incentives.”
Bush added, “What we need is to put a strategy in place that will help this country over time become less dependent.” Okay, he opposed such a strategy all his life, and he was never going need Big Oil to help him run for office again, but still.
The GOP Speaker of the House just had an equally rare moment of candor on oil subsidies, but it didn’t last long, as Brad Johnson reports (with video):
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has conceded that their multi-billion-dollar subsidies should be on the negotiating table. Under tenacious questioning by ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl about “obscene” oil industry profits and $4 gas, Boehner admitted that oil companies have “some part of this to blame.” “I don’t think the big oil companies need to have the oil depletion allowances,” he said, which is a nearly $1 billion annual subsidy, part of the $4 billion in subsidies identified by President Obama. In the interview, Boehner recognized that oil companies are not “paying their fair share”:
It’s certainly something we should be looking at. We’re in a time when the federal government’s short on revenues. We need to control spending but we need to have revenues to keep the government going. They ought to be paying their fair share.
Last month, the Republican caucus under Boehner voted in lockstep to protect corporate welfare for Big Oil. Furthermore, Boehner has said he “fully support[s]” the Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) budget plan, which “retains $40 billion in Big Oil tax loopholes while completely eliminating investments in the clean energy technologies of the future.”
As journalist Michael Kinsley famously said, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” And so Boehner walked back his remarks within the 24-hour news cycle:
According to Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, Boehner now supports oil subsidies again. Although the speaker told Jonathan Karl that the government needs to increase revenues (i.e. raise taxes) and that the oil depletion allowance should be dropped, according to Steel, that’s not what happened: “The speaker made clear in the interview that raising taxes was a nonstarter, and he’s told the president that. He simply wasn’t going to take the bait and fall into the trap of defending ‘Big Oil’ companies.”
As Johnson notes, “It appears that Boehner’s support for ending some oil subsidies wasn’t intended to be a factual statement.”
h/t to ThinkProgress’s Twitter feed for inspiring my headline.