Speaker Boehner Admits Oil Companies Don't 'Pay Their Fair Share'

April 26, 2011 10:48 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

Speaker John Boehner

The economic recovery is fragile, but you'd never know it by looking at the oil industry. While most Americans feel the impact of rising gas prices, Big Oil is cashing in; this year's profits "could come close to rivaling the industry's record year in 2008," according to the Wall Street Journal. At ExxonMobil alone, "The spike is expected to lift earnings by about 50%."

On top of all that, oil companies that pay virtually nothing in taxes are still reaping the benefits of billions in Republican-supported subsidies from the federal government. Last month, House Republicans voted unanimously to continue taxpayer giveaways to the oil industry. Asked recently about ending the subsidies, GOP budget author Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) replied, "We don't have a tax problem."

Yesterday, however, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) abruptly abandoned the Republican message. In an interview with ABC News, Boehner suggested that, at a time "when the federal government's short on revenues," maybe oil companies "ought to be paying their fair share." 

At a time of skyrocketing gas prices and near-record profits for oil companies, House Speaker John Boehner made a major concession today: Congress should consider cutting multi-billion dollar subsidies to oil companies.

"Everybody wants to go after the oil companies and, frankly, they've got some part of this to blame," the Ohio Republican told ABC News today.

"It's certainly something we should be looking at," Boehner said. "We're in a time when the federal government's short on revenues. They ought to be paying their fair share."

Before you get too excited about the suddenly reasonable Republican leader, remember that we've been down this road with Boehner in the past. Last September, Boehner said that "of course" he would support extending tax cuts for just the middle class — and ending those for the rich — if that was the only plan available. But he quickly reversed himself in the face of conservative outrage, eventually denouncing a clean vote on middle-class tax cuts as "chicken crap."  

Perhaps more important than the practical matter of ending oil subsidies, Boehner's comments yesterday step all over his party's main talking point in support of protecting the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which is "we don't have a revenue problem." The pushback from the right is likely to be swift. The question is: will Boehner give in?  

UPDATE: As predicted, Boehner's office is already walking back the statement. Read more about the Speaker's explanation HERE