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Sound and fury on the big oil issue

March 29, 2012
The Journal

During the last three months of 2011, the five largest oil companies doing business in the United States reported combined profits of about $32 billion. One analyst estimates that from 2001-11, the same firms raked in $1 trillion in profits.

Obviously, big businesses such as these need no help from taxpayers. Yet they enjoy substantial breaks in the U.S. tax code.

Finally, Congress seems poised to end that outrage as the price of gasoline ratchets up to near $4 a gallon. Or are they? On Monday the U.S. Senate voted to allow debate on a bill to kill several tax breaks enjoyed by Big Oil, about $24 billion in subsidies over the next decade. The bill would authorize new tax breaks for alternative energy industries.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, is becoming a partisan political football. Republicans want to add amendments to open up more of the U.S. to oil and natural gass exploration and drilling. The Democrats are likely to bar such amendments. The Republicans, therefore, are likely to kill the bill.

Even if the bill did, somehow, make it through the Democratic-controlled Senate, it would likely die in the Republican-controlled House.

So this week's debate is unlikely to achieve much of anything. Big oil will continue to collect its billions in subsidies, on top of it massive profit margins, while hiking the price at the pump. Democrats and Republicans will try to blame each other.

As the Bard said, "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."



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