Obama presses GOP on oil industry subsidies

OBAMA PRESSES GOP ON OIL INDUSTRY SUBSIDIES…. Though he later said he didn’t mean it, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told ABC News yesterday he’s open to ending lucrative taxpayer subsidies to extremely-profitable oil companies.

Apparently, folks at the White House saw the interview, prompting President Obama to write a letter to Boehner and other congressional leaders, arguing that it’s time to end the oil-industry incentives. He added that the savings could be applied to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

“We need to get to work immediately on the longer term goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and our vulnerability to price fluctuations this dependence creates,” he said in the letter.

“High oil and gasoline prices are weighing on the minds and pocketbooks of every American family,” he wrote.

His proposal would eliminate a number of tax breaks for oil companies that would generate, administration officials said, around $4 billion a year in additional revenue.

Specifically referencing the ABC interview, Obama said in his letter, “I was heartened that Speaker Boehner yesterday expressed openness to eliminating these tax subsidies for the oil and gas industry. Our political system has for too long avoided and ignored this important step, and I hope we can come together in a bipartisan manner to get it done.”

Soon after, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) joined the fun, saying, “Gas hitting four dollars per gallon seems to have finally caused Speaker Boehner to see the light on the insanity of providing subsidies to profit-soaked big oil companies.” [Update: Nancy Pelosi is on the same page.]

Boehner’s office immediately rejected the idea because it would count as “raising taxes” on wealthy oil companies — and Republicans can’t tolerate that.

But the larger context is hard to miss — Dems are starting to see this as a chance to go on the offensive, and they’re eager to seize the opportunity. The message to voters seems likely to resonate: “Those oil companies charging you an arm and a leg? The ones with huge profits? Republicans insist they should also get billions in subsidies with your money.”

If Dems press this, it’s a winning issue. If the GOP keeps defending the industry incentives, it’s a political cudgel, and if Republicans cave and end the subsidies, the money can be better spent elsewhere.

In the meantime, Boehner’s office continues to walk back his on-air remarks, but the defense sounds an awful lot like, “Don’t worry, the Speaker was lying at the time.”