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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 3, 2013
Molly Moorhead
By Molly Moorhead January 3, 2013

Obama has no luck getting tax proposals past Congress

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to eliminate "special tax breaks for oil and gas companies, including repealing special expensing rules, foreign tax credit benefits, and manufacturing deductions for oil and gas firms."

None of these things were included in the major tax bill that avoided the "fiscal cliff" in January 2013, and when we asked the American Petroleum Institute whether they had been enacted earlier, he said that none have been changed under Obama. (The spokesman also took issue with Obama"s characterization of these as "special tax breaks," saying that some of the tax provisions Obama cited, such as foreign tax credit benefits, affect many businesses, not just the oil and gas sector.)

Obama still hopes to get the tax changes into law. As recently as his fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, Obama backed elimination of eight oil-and-gas-specific tax breaks. But that was only a proposal, and one that was dead on arrival in Congress.

Since the Obameter rates tangible progress rather than presidential intentions, we rate this a Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Robert Farley
By Robert Farley May 18, 2011

Not enough votes in Senate to move bill forward

In a move that opponents saw as little more than campaign posturing, Democrats in the Senate voted on May 17, 2011 to cut back on tax breaks to the top 5 oil companies -- a vote that was supported by the Obama administration and, if it had passed, would have gone a long way toward fulfilling President Barack Obama's campaign promise.

Called the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, the bill sought to repeal about $21 billion worth of tax breaks to oil companies over 10 years with the stipulation that all revenues generated would be used to reduce the federal budget deficit or the public debt. The five companies targeted were: Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, ConocoPhillips and BP.

The Senate voted 52-48 in favor of moving the bill forward, meaning it failed to get the 60 votes needed to bring the measure up for debate. Votes largely broke along party lines, with all but two Republicans and three Democrats voting against it.

Republicans argued that repealing the tax breaks would discourage domestic oil production and, ultimately, drive up the price of gasoline. Many Republicans dismissed the vote as a 2012 campaign place-marker for the Democrats, establishing a talking point that Republicans favor tax breaks for big oil at a time when the country is in the midst of a debt crisis.

"This bill is just pure political demagoguery," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.

"Excuse me if I don't cry for Exxon," countered Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Ca. "How long do you have to give corporate welfare to oil companies?"

The vote came on the same day that Taxpayers for Common Sense, an independent group that analyzes federal spending, released a report outlining nearly $80 billion in subsidies the oil and gas industry will receive over the next five years.

"In a time of jaw-dropping deficits, taxpayers are being forced to line the pockets of Big Oil while they rake in massive profits," Steve Ellis, Vice President of Taxpayers for Common Sense, stated in a press release. "Oil and gas companies should pay their fair share."

Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey told the Christian Science Monitor the bill stood virtually no chance of passing.

"It's summertime symbolic politics," he says. "It's part of a storymaking process, intended for television audiences, that the parties are engaged in, and legislation that won't pass is a good way to do it."

For his part, Obama has made a good faith effort to try to fulfill his campaign promise to eliminate oil and gas tax loopholes. It has been a frequent and forceful talking point in speeches this year. But PolitiFact ultimately judges promises based on whether or not they are accomplished. The cuts did not materialize after two years with a Democratic-controlled Congress and appear even less likely now that Republicans control the House. With the vote this week, it was clear Republicans are not inclined to go along with Obama's plan to eliminate tax breaks to oil companies. Some Democrats are holding out hope the issue can be used as a bargaining chip in the upcoming debate over raising the debt ceiling. So we're not yet ready to declare Obama's promise Broken, though it certainly appears to be on life support. For now, we'll move the rating to Stalled.

Our Sources

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan March 10, 2009

Changes to oil and gas taxes make Obama's budget

President Obama proposed many changes to the U.S. tax code when running for office, including eliminating oil and gas tax loopholes.

When he unveiled his first budget outline on Feb. 26, 2009, he included a number of measures that would revoke tax advantages for oil companies.

The budget outline calls for nine different measures under the category "Eliminate oil and gas company preferences." Among other things, the outline says the Obama administration will "levy excise tax on Gulf of Mexico oil and gas (limits excess royalty relief)," "repeal enhanced oil recovery credit," "repeal marginal well tax credit," "repeal expensing of intangible drilling costs," and "repeal deduction for tertiary injectants."

The Obama administration estimates that over 10 years, the changes would generate $30 billion in additional revenue. (That sounds like a lot, but it's a small amount compared with Obama's $400 "Making Work Pay" tax credit for workers, which will cost $536 billion over 10 years.)

Obama's budget still needs to get through Congress. We also weren't able to tell from the outline whether these measures would affect foreign tax credit benefits for oil companies, though it does specifically mention repealing the manufacturing tax deduction and expensing rules. The Obama administration plans to release more budget details in April 2009. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.

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