Who you calling ‘un-American’?

ConocoPhillips, one of the world’s largest and most profitable oil companies, yesterday said it’s “un-American” to take away taxpayer subsidies from the oil industry. This wasn’t a verbal slip; the comment was put in a press release.

Congressional Democrats weren’t pleased, and at a Senate Finance Committee hearing featuring executives from all of the major oil companies, Dems sought an apology. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) repeatedly pressed ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva on this point, but there were no regrets from the oil man.

SCHUMER: I want to ask you a specific question, do you think anyone who advocates cutting these subsidies is un-American? Yes or no, sir. That one we deserve a yes or no answer on, it was your release that said “un-American.” Yes or no?

MULVA: Senator, maybe you can hear me out on this because it’s a very important question.

SCHUMER: Do you apologize for it?

MULVA: Make no mistake, were these proposals enacted … they would place U.S. oil companies like our company …

SCHUMER: Sir, I have limited time. I know your view. Do you consider it American to have another view? Yes or no?

MULVA: Senator, I believe policies under consideration are going to have a very adverse impact with respect to energy policy.

SCHUMER: There are many people who disagree with that.

The New York senator ultimately asked the other executives whether opposition to industry subsidies was, in their eyes, un-American. When they declined, Schumer thanked them for “not labeling those who are different from you un-American.”

(For the record, ending the subsidies would not have a adverse impact with respect to energy policy.)

Under questioning from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Mulva later added that “nothing was intended personally,” but he would not apologize or retract the characterization.

I see. The CEO thinks Democrats are being un-American by asking Big Oil to enjoy its profits without additional taxpayer incentives, but he doesn’t think Democrats should take it “personally.”

Also of interest, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) reminded Mulva of remarks he made in 2005, about the industry not needing subsidies when prices were at $55 a barrel — roughly half the current level. Pressed by Wyden to justify this in 2011, Mulva responded that he doesn’t consider tax incentives to be tax incentives.

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Steve Benen

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.