This procedural vote was on a motion to end debate and set up a final, up-or-down vote on legislation repealing tax breaks for major oil companies and renewing incentives for development of renewable energy and other domestic energy sources.
The energy bill, which was introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), was brought to the Senate floor for consideration at a time when rising gas prices were a hot topic in Congress. The bill would eliminate a number of tax breaks that benefit the largest oil companies to the tune of more than $2 billion annually. The savings would be used to reduce the federal budget deficit and extend a number of tax breaks for other energy sources, such as wind and solar power, energy efficiency, and biofuels.
Supporters of Sen. Menendez’s bill argued that the only way to address gas prices in the long term was to reduce America’s dependence on oil. That could be done by cutting subsidies for major oil companies – which made more than $137 billion in profits in 2011 – and committing more resources to renewable energy, they said.
“Eliminating these wasteful tax breaks that benefit a few undeserving companies will allow us to reinvest in clean energy technologies that will benefit everyone,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said. “These investments will improve our national security by making the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. They will also strengthen our economy and create new green jobs for the large number of Americans who are currently out of work and facing hard times.”
Opponents of Sen. Menendez’s bill argued that raising taxes on oil companies would force gas prices to rise, not fall.
“We know pretty basic economic principles are at play. Taxing something does not make it cheaper and more abundant,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said. “We know from past experience. Due to a failed experiment with the windfall profits tax that harmed domestic fuel production and collected far fewer revenues than what was expected, we know this is taking us in the wrong direction. Again, our problem is high fuel prices and their effect on average Americans. I have yet to hear anyone explain to me how raising taxes is going to lower prices.”
Even though the motion to set up a final vote on the energy bill received 51 “yea” votes and only 47 voted “nay,” the motion failed because it was brought up under Senate rules that require 60 votes for passage. Voting “yea” were 49 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 2 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 43 Republicans and 4 Democrats. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to hold a final, up-or-down vote on legislation repealing tax breaks for major oil companies and renewing incentives for development of renewable energy and domestic energy sources.