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White House defends push for eliminating oil-and-gas subsidies

By NBC's Athena Jones
This afternoon's White House press briefing was dominated by questions about the letter President Obama sent to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), calling on them to pass legislation to eliminate more than $4 billion a year in tax breaks for oil-and-gas companies.

The move to end what the White House calls "wasteful subsidies" was portrayed as a way to both address the deficit and to reduce American consumers' susceptibility to oil-price shocks in the future.

It is hard to argue that given where the price of oil is now that there is a need for subsidies for the oil and gas industry when oil company CEOs themselves have said they do not need these kinds of incentives to continue to explore, Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

"At a time when Americans are suffering every time they go to the gas station and pull out their credit card or the cash to pay a very high price for a tank of gas, to then tell them that actually we need to spend $4 billion a year of their money to subsidize oil companies who this week are reporting massive profits is just not a credible argument," Carney continued. "He [President Obama] certainly believes that now more than ever the argument resonates."

With gas prices approaching record highs nationwide, the letter seemed a clear attempt by the White House to show Americans the president is concerned about the kind of pocketbook issues that are at the top of voters minds. But it's unclear what impact eliminating the subsidies would have on prices at the pump.

Obama has repeatedly said there is no "silver bullet" to bringing down sky-high gas prices, but believes that ending the subsidies -- as he proposed to do in his FY2011 and FY2012 budgets -- and using the money to invest in clean energy was one step that could be taken to ensure Americans don't "fall victim to skyrocketing gas prices over the long term." Carney said there was "nothing symbolic" about this new push to end the tax breaks and insisted it was not part of a political calculation.

"We don't look at this as an issue of electoral politics in 18 months, we look at this as an issue of hardship for average Americans today," he said, adding that he didn't believe people were thinking about the 2012 election while filling up their gas tanks. "You don't have to introduce electoral politics into it to make it a matter of great concern because we are concerned about it here today."

Though Speaker Boehner told ABC he was willing to "take a look" at these subsidies paid to oil companies in an interview that aired last night, his spokesman Brendan Buck released the following statement in response to today's letter from the president:

“The Speaker wants  to increase the supply of American energy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and he is only interested in reforms that actually lower energy costs and create American jobs. Unfortunately, what the President has suggested so far would simply raise taxes and increase the price at the pump.”