President Obama on Thursday urged passage of a bill before the Senate that would limit existing tax breaks for the nation's largest oil and gas companies.
Speaking in the Rose Garden, Obama said Congress “can either vote to spend billions of dollars on oil subsidies that keep us trapped in the past. Or they can vote to end these taxpayer subsidies so that we can invest in the future. It’s that simple.”
He criticized Congress for thinking “up until this point” that “it’s a good idea to send billions more of your tax dollars to the oil industry.”
He added that such energy companies are “doing just fine” without the extra tax boost, noting that the three biggest oil companies saw more than $80 billion in profits alone last year.
“It’s not like these are companies that can’t stand on their own,” he continued.
According to the White House, Obama’s Rose Garden audience included representatives from energy, business and environmental groups as well as people who posted about the impact of higher fuel prices on the White House websites and social media.
The Senate was expected to vote on the “Repeal Big Oil Subsidies Act” shortly after the president spoke. The bill, written by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ) would repeal over $20 billion in tax breaks to the major oil and gas companies: BP, Exxon, Shell, Chevron and Conoco Phillips.
The Senate voted overwhelmingly to bring the bill up for debates, but Republicans will oppose its final passage; the GOP had looked to set up a broader debate over gas prices, and they have assailed the Democratic proposal as a de facto tax hike.
Earlier today, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell criticized Democrats for pushing the bill, which he said won’t do anything to lower gas prices.
"That was their brilliant plan on how to deal with gas prices: raise taxes on energy,” McConnell said, criticizing Senate Democrats for allowing a “tedious” amount of what he said were strictly politicized show votes.
UPDATE, 12 p.m.: Noting that Obama has been calling for oil industry tax incentives since his first term in office, the RNC released a statement saying, “President Obama will say and do anything it takes to get reelected even if it means doing a Rose Garden photo-op to pretend increasing energy taxes will lower gas prices. This is just more smoke and mirrors from a president who doesn’t have an energy policy while Americans struggle to pay higher gas prices at the pump.”
NBC’s Libby Leist contributed reporting.