PAUL RYAN LENDS DEMS A HAND ON OIL SUBSIDIES…. Congressional Republicans seem to have an oil problem. The highly-profitable oil and gas industry continues to receive billions of dollars a year in taxpayer subsidies, which the companies clearly don’t need, and Democrats have latched on to this as a political winner.

The dilemma is straightforward: Republicans want to keep the tax incentives for Big Oil going indefinitely, but they don’t know how to defend their position.

This has led to quite a bit of awkwardness. This week, for example, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told a national television audience this week that he’s open to ending the subsidies. His office quickly walked this back, suggesting the Speaker’s comments were deliberately false.

But Boehner’s not the only one. Yesterday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was pressed on the issue at a town-hall meeting.

Q: The subsidy for the oil companies that the federal government gives. They’ve gotta stop.

RYAN: Sure.

Q: End the oil company subsidies…

RYAN: I agree.

Q: …and you will gain a lot of that money in the red back.

Now, it’s worth noting that if Ryan “agrees” that it’s time to end subsidies for oil companies, he has an odd way of showing it. Just last month, the far-right lawmaker voted to keep the subsidies going.

But why quibble? Perhaps Ryan has realized the error of his ways, and is now prepared to support the Democratic proposal. Dems certainly hope so — White House Press Secretary Jay Carney immediately touted Ryan’s remarks, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi applauded Ryan’s support for her caucus’ idea.

At this point, Ryan has not yet walked this back, and as odd as it seems, we now have Paul Ryan and the House GOP leadership on different sides of a high-profile debate. Dems, in general, aren’t this lucky, and the conflict reinforces the political potency of the issue.

As of late yesterday, the Speaker’s office once again refused to even consider the measure he tacitly supported earlier in the week, suggesting this fight will continue. All things considered, I get the sense Democrats are all right with that.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.