House GOPer: ‘Oil companies pay their fair share’

It’s almost as if congressional Republicans don’t realize how unpopular oil-industry subsidies really are.

Count freshman Rep. Dan Benishek as the latest Republican to come out in defense of oil companies.

According to The Petoskey News, the 1st District Michigan congressman told a public forum, “(Democrats) talk about raising the taxes on the oil companies. I think oil companies pay their fair share.”

“I can understand where the oil company wants to deduct the cost of drilling a well. That’s one of the tax breaks for oil companies — the subsidies — they get to deduct the cost of the well the year you drill,” he continued.

This isn’t quite on the same level as Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologizing to BP after its oil-spill disaster, but it’s not too far off, either.

First, there’s a good reason ending oil-industry subsidies enjoys so much public support. Oil companies are already extremely profitable, and don’t need $4 billion a year in taxpayer subsidies. If Congress is desperate to find savings in the budget and cut the deficit, there’s no reason an industry enjoying record profits can’t be asked to give up public funding it doesn’t need.

Second, Benishek says Big Oil pays its “fair share,” but he seems to assume that the Big Oil pays anything at all. As recently as last year, Forbes reported that Exxon Mobil “ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam” in 2009. The oil giant later disputed the claim, but wouldn’t provide any details, and Forbes noted that the company’s financial statements “don’t show any net income tax liability” to the United States.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if a massive oil company with tens of billions of dollars in profits pays nothing in federal taxes, this falls short of paying its “fair share.”

Sometimes I wonder: are Republicans trying to be unpopular? Sure, a conservative congressman like Dan Benishek takes in quite a bit of money from Big Oil, but who is this message intended to persuade? At least Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) had the good sense to lie about his position when pressed on this during a nationally televised interview.

Are there really a large number of voters out there thinking, “We really should go easier on Big Oil, since they already pay their fair share”?