Yes, big oil’s record profit margins might narrow a bit as a result of bringing a long overdue end to this form of corporate welfare, but going from $144 billion in profits (as the group of five is predicted to do this year) to $142 billion is hardly going to land them in the poor house.

Reducing the federal deficit has been a favorite talking point for lawmakers as of late. In fact, lowering the national debt has been such a cornerstone of the tea party movement that many candidates ran for office –– and won –– based on campaign promises to do just that.


Yet all but two Republicans voted “no” when an opportunity arose in the Senate last week to cut $2 billion worth of subsidies a year from the five biggest oil companies — Shell Oil Co., ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP America Inc. and Chevron Corp. — and use the savings to pay down the federal deficit.


Three Democrats crossed party lines to side with the GOP, arguing that passing the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act would translate into higher gas prices for consumers. However, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service released a report that threw cold water on that claim, finding the affect on prices at the pump would be negligible if subsidies to big oil ended.


So what was their true motivation? Sadly, it seems they were spurred by their own self-interest, not some altruistic desire to spare the American people.


According to analysis from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the 48 senators who voted against ending oil subsidies received more than $21 million in career oil contributions, compared with $5.4 million in contributions for the 52 senators who supported the subsidy-ending bill.


I wasn’t terribly surprised to see traditional Republicans toe the party line — after all, the GOP has been widely accused of being deep in big oil’s pocket as far back as I can remember — but to see the tea party conservatives fall in step so quickly was a bit mind boggling, given how strongly they claim to feel about reducing the national debt.


Perhaps they were merely paying lip service with their avowals to bring fiscal responsibility to Capitol Hill, as it is clearly business as usual in our nation’s capital.


However, if those lawmakers truly do believe the ballooning federal deficit needs to be reined in, how can they possibly justify telling Americans who are struggling to make ends meet that they need to make do with even less –– or find a way to somehow survive despite cuts in crucial services –– while steadfastly refusing to tell companies that are raking in money hand over fist to, in the words of Republican House Speaker John Boehner, “pay their fair share.”


Those who oppose ending oil subsidies can wring their hands and decry the affect they claim it would have on the working American all they want, but even former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister has recently stated large oil companies simply don’t need government aid any longer.


Yes, big oil’s record profit margins might narrow a bit as a result of bringing a long overdue end to this form of corporate welfare, but going from $144 billion in profits (as the group of five is predicted to do this year) to $142 billion is hardly going to land them in the poor house.


Balancing the books solely on the backs of struggling Americans, however, would have disastrous consequences — both to the citizens themselves and the economy at large.


Lawmakers need to step up and put their money where their mouths are if we have any hope of making real progress in reducing the federal deficit. If they don’t, we all will pay the price.


City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at agehrt@pekin?times.com. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times in Illinois.