Putting energy policy up front and center

Much of the attention this week has been on Osama bin Laden’s demise — except in Congress, where Republicans are focused on abortion — but energy policy remains a top public priority and the Democratic message is fairly well defined.

Indeed, President Obama continues to remind the GOP of its vulnerability on the issue.

With gasoline prices still hovering above $4 a gallon, President Obama renewed his call on Friday to close tax loopholes for large oil companies, declaring, “If you’re already paying them at the gas pump, we don’t need to pay them through the tax code.”

Mr. Obama traveled to Indiana to visit a company that makes hybrid vehicle transmissions to showcase his administration’s commitment to fuel-efficient and clean-energy technologies. But he also took aim at the oil industry as the key beneficiary of the nation’s ravenous appetite for energy.

Over the last five years, Mr. Obama said, the five largest oil companies each earned between $75 billion and $125 billion. An array of tax breaks for the industry, he said, cost American taxpayers $5 billion annually. The president, calling these loopholes “unwarranted subsidies,” said the money should be redirected to investments in clean energy.

Reinforcing the White House’s emphasis on the issue, the president’s weekly address was focused on energy policy and gas prices, and the administration unveiled a new “infographic” detailing the Obama agenda.

In the meantime, House Democrats this week tried to force a measure onto the floor to end taxpayer subsidies to the oil industry. House Republicans unanimously rejected the move — the third time in four months that the GOP has defended the lucrative incentives for Big Oil.

That’s not especially surprising, of course, but it’s worth noting that a whole lot of House Republicans recently told their constituents they’d at least consider ending the subsidies. Apparently, that interest quickly waned.

In the meantime, the Republican message on this continues to be something of a mess. One House GOP lawmaker insisted that the subsidies simply don’t exist, while other Republicans are defending the incentives by saying it’s “only” $4 billion a year, and not worth worrying about.

At the national level, GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty said it’s “preposterous” to end oil industry subsidies, while Mitt Romney hasn’t done his homework yet.

This issue isn’t going away.