Dems Grill Oil Execs Over Industry Tax Breaks

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WASHINGTON - With gas prices continuing to rise, there isn't much love in the U.S. for major oil company executives -- especially on Capitol Hill.

Democrats want to cut billions of dollars in oil and gas subsidies they say the industry doesn't need. But Republicans claim the move is merely a ploy for Democrats to score political points.

The peak of the summer travel season is weeks away and already, Americans are feeling the pinch at the pump.

Top oil executives attended a congressional hearing Thursday to defend the tax breaks that Democrats want to end.

Leaders of Shell Oil Co., Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and two other oil companies said ending the subsidies would essentially amount to a tax hike, which singles out the oil industry, and ultimately wouldn't lower gas prices.

"Removing them (tax breaks) for select few oil and gas companies is nothing less than discriminatory and a punitive tax hike that jeopardizes the jobs of American workers," Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, said.

In response, Democrats resurfaced clips from a hearing nearly six years ago, during which oil execs pushed the subsidies aside.

"You all said you didn't need them in 2005, and it sure seems to be a different story today," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., charged.

Democrats in both the House and the Senate have developed proposals that strip away the popular deduction for manufacturing activity and a credit for oil companies that pay taxes to foreign governments.

One bill eliminates about $2 billion in tax breaks and uses the revenue to pay down the federal deficit.

Critics of the plan say it will only make things worse.

"Their tax increases don't apply to Saudi-made oil. So you wonder why the price of gas has more than doubled since Barack Obama has been president," Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said. "It's because of his failed policies as president."

Still, Democrats hold that the cuts are about making tough decisions when it comes to reducing the deficit.

"It just seems frankly that you make a lot of money. That's fine. That's the American way. But it also seems that maybe the subsidies are not necessary anymore," Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Max Baucus said.

Baucus added that oil companies have seen $35 billion profits in the first quarter alone.

To that, Chevron Chief Executive John Watson said, "Don't punish our industry for doing its job well."

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