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Bingaman May Not Support His Party’s Oil Tax Bill

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman hasn’t decided whether to vote for his leadership’s bill to slash oil and gas company tax breaks and predicted the bill would fail to pass either way.

In an appearance on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers,” the New Mexico Democrat said Friday he has previously opposed some of his party’s efforts to rein in tax breaks for oil companies because he thought they went too far.

“Frankly, I haven’t decided how to vote. I certainly support paring back some of these tax breaks … whether or not all of them should be pared back, I’m not certain at this point,” he said in the interview, which is scheduled to air Sunday.

Bingaman is hardly the only Democrat with reservations about the bill. Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), both from oil states, torched the legislation on the Senate floor earlier this week, with Landrieu calling it “laughable” that she might support it.

Though he said he doesn’t think that the measure will pass, Bingaman said he still sees some value in bringing the bill to the floor, considering the Republicans’ insistence on cutting government social programs.

“I think there’s obviously some posturing going on, but I think at the same time there’s some value in putting the budget questions in some context,” he said.

Still, Bingaman appeared sympathetic to claims made by oil company executives at a Finance Committee hearing Thursday.

“There is an argument that was made very strongly by the CEOs that, if you are going to change these tax provisions, you shouldn’t just do it for five companies, you should do it more generally,” he said. “So there’s an argument that deserves attention.” Bingaman is also a member of the Finance panel.

Bingaman said he doesn’t doubt that increasing the tax burden on oil companies could drive more production to other countries. However, he said the companies could afford to lose some tax breaks.

“I think it’s pretty clear that reducing some of the tax benefits would not in any way jeopardize the profitability of some of these companies,” he said.

The legislation would cut the deficit by $21 billion over the coming decade. The companies collectively are expected to make more than $100 billion in profits this year.

In the end, Bingaman said, much broader reductions in tax breaks as well as spending cuts are going to be needed.

“I think not just someone’s going to have to pay, I think everyone’s going to have to pay, if we’re going to be able to really make a dent in this very large deficit and debt we’ve accumulated,” Bingaman said.

Bingaman said that while his committee is looking at legislation that could potentially affect gas prices in the long term — including measures providing incentives for electric cars — there isn’t much Congress can do about the $4 per gallon price at the pump right now.

“It is not realistic to think we’re going to legislate a change in the price of oil short term,” he said.

Additionally, Bingaman, who has helped block oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for years, said he hasn’t changed his position despite high gas prices.

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