How did the GOP get stuck “Defending Big Oil” again?


Every poll taken and every conversation with a real person outside of DC shows gas prices as the number one issue in the country... and today Senate Democrats schooled us on it.  “Republicans Defend Big Oil” is the basic message we sent the country after the energy debates in the Senate today, we'll really win elections on that one.  Here’s the AP’s opening paragraph:

Saved by Senate Republicans, big oil companies dodged an attempt Tuesday to slap them with a windfall profits tax and take away billions of dollars in tax breaks in response to the record gasoline prices that have the nation fuming.

Anything that even gives a reporter the excuse to write that is political insanity.  So how do we win on this issue instead of getting ourselves pegged as special interest shills?  Stop doing anything that can be portrayed as defending oil companies, start shining the spotlight on the Saudis and shift the debate further towards production.    

First, I don’t see any reason at all we need to keep getting stuck with the “defending tax breaks for big oil” charge over and over again.  Subsidies are not a free market principle.  Let’s cut ‘em and get the issue off the table.

Second, start talking about the Saudis.  The Democrats are winning this debate because they’ve offered domestic oil companies up as a handy scapegoat.  We’ve got to change the narrative and start focusing criticism on, gee I don’t know, the international cartel of terrorist funding despots that actually controls the oil supply?  Of course, the legions of lobbyists and public affairs shops that the Saudi’s have retained around DC have absolutely nothing to do with why they haven’t been the subject of criticism.

Doing both of those things makes it easier for us to shift the spotlight back onto all the pro-energy production policies we want to pass and the Democrats insist on blocking.  Republicans are much more serious about increasing production and making the U.S. truly energy independent, but we’ve let the Democrats turn the debate into a fight over “big oil company profits.”  To be fair to the Senate Republican leadership, they have been trying to talk about production, but without pivoting away from the “big oil” narrative, the Democrats were able to use their procedural levers as a way to control the terms of the public debate.

So practically, what should Senate Republicans have done differently?  Let the bills come to the floor, drop the objection to cutting the oil company subsidies, offer amendments to strip out the windfall profits tax (letting senators vote their conscience on it) and then start offering amendments for a week straight on production-increasing measures that will “free us from our dependence on terrorist-funding despots.”

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If they're unsuccessful in

If they're unsuccessful in stripping the windfall profits tax (as I suspect they would be), they either have to oppose the overall bill, leaving themselves in the same position they're in now, or supporting it and becoming tax hiking Republicans.  The question is which is better?

Well that is certainly true. But give us votes

I totally agree with Tom on the vote on final passage, but Josh offered us an alternative:

So practically, what should Senate Republicans have done differently?  Let the bills come to the floor, drop the objection to cutting the oil company subsidies, offer amendments to strip out the windfall profits tax (letting senators vote their conscience on it) and then start offering amendments for a week straight on production-increasing measures that will “free us from our dependence on terrorist-funding despots.”

Amen. From a parliamentary strategy perspective, start with a substitute amendment. Hold a big press conference. Hold blogger calls. Create awareness. Put pressure on forcing at least a vote on the substitute.

In this case, there was a substitute. From paragraph 5(!!) of an email today from Senate leadership:

Republicans oppose most of the measures in the bill outright, but are also unlikely to allow the bill to go forward because Democrats have refused to let them offer their own energy plan as an amendment.

I am not hearing much about this. Leadership doesn't want to fight it.

I would point out that whacking subsidies should be a part of this. Like ethanol, we don't exactly need price support for oil right now...

I think you're a little off base, Josh.

1.  How can Republicans control what the AP writes?  We all know it is a liberal press organization, and of course they were going to portray this as "Republicans sticking up for big oil".

2.  Polls show that the public isn't buying the eeeeevil oil company schtick anymore.  Link:

3.  Calling them oil company subsidies is a little misleading.  What the oil companies get is a generous depreciation allowance on their oil reserves.  It ends up being a tax deduction for them, which is a little different than the government actually giving them taxpayer funded handouts.

Basically, I think the Republicans were totally right today, on principle and generally ok on the politics.  I agree with Soren's suggestions above; they should have pushed harder to communicate their side, but in the end, the Dems wouldn't let them move forward with their own plan, so they were kinda dead in the water.

Good arguments, a quick response

1.  A liberal leaning MSM is a fact of life.  It sucks to have to deal with their inherent bias, but that doesn't mean it's pointless for us to do any type of media relations work outside of friendly territory.  The AP reaches a massive number of people and a lot of them are gettable voters. They're not the Nation and working them intellegently has a very real effect on coverage.

2. Read the article, a good read, I don't think it contradicts the argument I'm making here.   I didn't say vote for the windfall profits tax, I said vote to repeal the tax breaks (or whatever you want to call them).  In terms of messaging, there's a difference between saying "Candidate X supported tax breaks for oil companies... even though gas costs $4.14 a gallon" and saying "Candidate X refused to rein in oil companies' record profits... even though gas costs $4.14 a gallon."

What's worse is that it's a big credibility hit to the rest of our message about increasing production.  That message has stronger legs if we don't look like we're doing it for oil companies, which is what the tax subsidies make it look like.

3.  Calling it "a tax break for oil companies" sounds just as damning to a voter.  Plus, the other guy gets to choose the language he smears you with. As long as it's vaguely credible the standard isn't high.

Summing up:

The main problem politically isn't that we're on the wrong side of the windfall profits tax, it's that we're looking like we're 1) giving goodies to the "bad guys" which saps our credibility and 2) not doing very much because we don't have a coherent narrative.

Problem with your plan

US private oil firms are in competition with State owned firms abroad for getting the oil. And those state owned firms are cleaning our clock


thats why we need the tax breaks for oil companies. AND just like the winfall profits tax any removal of their tax breaks will get passed on to the consumer in higher taxes

For Once the Republicans Did it Right

The Republicans did it right.  Defeating this bill was  good thing.   The AP is a liberal news agency and will always make the Republicans look like the villain.  This has to be expected and dealt with.  The Republicans need to get their message out and I think on this issue they will. 

Barack Obama has called for similar legislation on the campaign trail, so this issue will come up again - quite possibly in the debates.  Obama's proposal - which is really an excise tax on each barrel of oil - was implemented in 1980 and eventually repealed because it was producing negligible revenue and killed domestic oil production.  

Republicans did not defend big oil.  They defended anyone who needs to fill up their gas tank.  Do not let the AP ruin this for you.  Its a win.

Do a google search on "windfall profits tax".  The second link is entitled "Tax History Project, Historical Perspective: Windfall Profits Tax".  This link has an enlightening history of Carter's tax.  By 1988 even the New York Times wanted its repeal.  I would post the link myself but the site is behind a registration screen.  If you access it through the google search you will have no problem reading it.


Let it pass and let Bush veto it

That would've been the politically convenient way out.   

Yes because

Clearly the Strategy of how to win elections is to have our congress vote for EPICALLY unpopular bills and have an unpopular President Veto them

So what?

Oil Companies make thousands of jobs in this country. Provide a service that is supply issues make it hard to afford (like it is right now) it shuts down the world. So I'm less worried about being painted as defending the oil companies


when we should be talking about "Winfall Profits tax=Higher gasoline prices." and "Winfall profits tax=More foriegn oil coming into this country." and "Winfall profits tax=Less jobs in this country." and "Winfall profits taxes tend to make about 1/5th of what they are estimated to make."


I'd make my stand on the above. The Democrats want to drive up your energy and food prices, force you out of work, buy more oil from countries that support terrorism, and this tax won't collect enough money to do anything good for anyone."

Put the Democrats on the Defensive

Make them justify remaining in the grip of dependence on OPEC oil. As written above, hold the press conferences and blogger calls. Point out we have enough oil to alleviate our dependence on OPEC oil & can get it safely. Make the Democrats defend OPEC & the reliance on their oil.

What they did was worse

Last time the congress did something like this our Foreign oil consumption increased, not decreased.


So they aren't just putting us under Obec's thumb they are twisting a knife as well