Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) — who famously apologized to BP after the disastrous spill in the Gulf — now thinks that the term “Big Oil” is mean to the oil industry. Yesterday, executives from the Big Five oil companies testified before the Senate Finance Committee to defend their taxpayer funded subsidies in an often contentious hearing. In defense of the Big Oil executives, Barton told a C-SPAN interviewer that the media shouldn’t use the phrase “Big Oil” because it’s “upsetting”:
First of all, I don’t think it should be a pejorative. We’ve got this mentality on the liberal side of our political debate: Big Oil, Big Insurance, big this, big that. We compete in a global economy, and the biggest company, Exxon Mobil, is only the fifth largest oil company overall, because the other four are run by governments. It should be something of a badge of honor that we still have companies that can compete internationally. It’s a little upsetting that we try at the beginning to make it a pejorative.
Contrary to Barton’s statement, “big” is an undeniably understated way to describe the industry – from its profits, to its campaign contributions and even its mistakes. For eight years in a row, Exxon Mobil was listed by Fortune 500 as the most profitable company in America. Combined, the Big Five Oil companies raked in over $32 billion in profits in just the first three months in 2011. The Big Five oil companies make more than one trillion dollars in revenues every year. And over the past decade, those same Big Five oil companies made a combined $900 billion. Since 1990, the oil and gas industry has spent more $270 million in congressional campaign contributions, and in 2010 alone, spent $145 million on lobbying.
Perhaps the only thing that’s not big about Big Oil is its tax rate. A Center for American Progress analysis revealed that from 2008–2010, ExxonMobil’s effective federal tax rate came in at 17.6 percent, less than the average American’s federal rate in 2007. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that an ExxonMobil spokesman“conceded that the company had a net federal income tax credit of $156 million in 2009.” Yet the American taxpayers subsidize these companies with $4 billion in tax breaks every year.
It’s no surprise Barton took issue with the hearing yesterday. Back in March, he defended taxpayer handouts to Big Oil, arguing that “if you put so many disincentives against any U.S. manufacturing or production company, or oil and gas exploration company, they’ll go out of business.” And the Texas Republican has received over $1.5 million in campaign contributions over the course of his career from Big OIl, his top contributor.
And for the record, Barton hasn’t been wary of using the incendiary three-letter word when describing his own line of business:
— The AP reported that Barton took issue with the 2010 first responders bill: “Republican critics branded the bill as a big-government program that would boost taxes and kill jobs. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, called it a ‘new entitlement program that we simply cannot afford.’” [AP, 9/30/10]
— The Detroit Free Press reported in May 2010 that Barton opposed the Motor Vehicle Safety Act: “U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said while he agreed with the idea behind several provisions, the details “take it far beyond a rational response to the Toyota recalls. This bill imposes more taxes, gives big government new unfettered authorities, and provides potentially crippling penalties on industry while providing questionable safety benefits,” Barton said. [Detroit Free Press, 5/7/10]
— “Ranking Minority Member of the Committee, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), thinks cap-and-trade ‘is a scheme devised by radical environmentalists and liberal politicians in Washington to get their big government hands in American’s wallet.’” [Foster Natural Gas Report, 4/3/09]
— “With Obama professing an aversion to a single-payer national plan, he said, ‘I haven’t been just a ‘heck no’ on this like we were under Hillarycare when they put their plan together in secret and it was a big government-run, single-payer system, take it or leave it.’” [The Dallas Morning News, 3/8/09]