House Passes Measure to Speed Oil Drilling

House Republicans on Wednesday voted to cut bureaucratic red tape they say has slowed oil production in the Gulf to a trickle and is contributing to the high price of gasoline at the pumps.

HR 1229 requires the Interior Department to act on oil drilling permits in a matter of weeks.  It passed 263 to 163, with 28 Democrats siding with Republicans who voted unanimously for the measure.

Last week the House approved a bill to accelerate offshore lease sales, and Thursday it is expected to pass another measure that lifts a moratorium on drilling in some parts of the Gulf.

The Obama administration halted most offshore drilling after the Deepwater Horizon disaster last year.  Only 10 of 50 projects have since been allowed to continue, Republicans say.

“We can’t allow the administration to keep stonewalling the permitting process,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R.-Colo.).

The Democrats’ strategy is to shift the focus of the debate to tax credits designed for oil companies, a policy they say “subsidizes” the industry.  “Republicans want to cut medical care for grandma, but won’t touch the profits for oil companies,” said Rep. Edward Markey (D.-Mass).  “It’s oil above all, that’s what it’s really all about,” Markey said.

Rep. Jeff Landry (R.-La.) said that if Democrats want to hurt oil company profits, they should help the supply meet the demand.

“If they want to bring the profits down, they should vote for this bill because we will drive the profits down when we drive the price down,” Landry said.

Citing a report by the Congressional Research Service issued in March, Landry said that eliminating tax breaks would make gas prices more expensive for consumers and likely increase U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

“We are here today to bring relief to Americans at the pump and put the Gulf of Mexico back to work,” Landry said.  Lamborn added, “I still haven’t heard how $4 billion in additional taxes for oil companies will translate to lower prices at the pump.”

The Democrats will move their plan forward in the Senate beginning with a hearing Thursday before the Finance Committee.

Specifically, Democrats want to eliminate a tax credit for domestic manufacturing, which they say will raise nearly $16 billion, and an exemption for payments made to foreign governments they say could raise nearly $10 billion in 10 years.

Additionally, Democrats seek to raise nearly $12 billion by collecting taxes on royalty-free leases granted in the 1990s.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) called the strategy Carteresque.

“They need to end an approach that hasn’t changed since the days of Jimmy Carter,” McConnell said in a floor speech Monday.  “Just like Carter before them, today’s Democrats are using the crisis of the moment as an excuse to push their own vision of the future, with a windfall-profits tax on energy companies.  And just like Carter before them, they have rightly been accused of bringing BB guns to a war,” McConnell said.

Brian Johnson, senior tax adviser for the American Petroleum Institute, said at a press briefing Monday that raising taxes would only further raise gas prices.

“They would not affect the global economics underpinning oil supply and demand, which explain today’s gasoline prices,” Johnson said.

The oil industry is one of the highest taxed in the U.S., paying more than $86 million to the federal treasury in taxes and production fees every day.

“The President was recently in Brazil promoting that country’s offshore oil development, and called on Saudi Arabia to increase oil production.  While we support energy production everywhere, we cannot ignore what we can do in America,” Johnson said.  “We need to keep American companies investing in American workers and our economy.”