Sen. Coburn's Disingenuous Defense Of Tax Breaks For Big Oil

September 09, 2011 3:32 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Sen. Tom Coburn

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) responds to President Obama's jobs speech by sticking up for the little guy — the nation's largest oil companies:

[S]ingling out and ridiculing tax breaks for oil companies while touting tax credits for renewable energy doesn't move us any closer to the kind of fundamental tax reform we need to stimulate real economic growth and job creation.

That's a strange approach for a senator known for his opposition to narrowly targeted tax breaks. You'd expect such a senator to support efforts to close one such tax break while encouraging others to join him in trying to close others as well. But Coburn's approach appears to mirror that of Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), who tweeted yesterday: "Would gladly support ending corp welfare & tax loopholes. But corp welfare is corp welfare whether big oil or big enviro. End ALL or none." That's a bizarre approach that will just guarantee that no loopholes get closed.

In Coburn's case, the explanation is clear: He doesn't really oppose wasteful loopholes and breaks that distort the tax code. He opposes loopholes and tax breaks that help entities he doesn't like. Tax breaks for oil companies, on the other hand, are just great as far as he's concerned. We know this not only because he lashed out at Obama for "singling out" tax breaks for oil companies, but because his much-hyped "Back In Black" deficit reduction plan left those breaks intact, as I explained at the time:

Now, about the cuts that aren't in Coburn's proposal: He slashes credits for renewable energy, and credits that help consumers buy energy-efficient appliances, but some tax breaks that affect the energy industry remain in place. In particular, oil companies fare quite well. Coburn cuts only two oil company tax credits, the Enhanced Oil Recovery Credit and the Marginal Well Tax Credit - both of which Coburn says are "currently inactive," as they only apply when the price of oil is low. Meanwhile, he leaves in place tax breaks that provide $21 billion in savings for the five biggest oil companies. Those companies combine for about $90 billion in profits each year, and Coburn wants to keep giving them $2 billion a year in tax breaks, even if it means eliminating a tax credit that helps his constituents save money by purchasing more efficient appliances.

In short, Coburn's deficit reduction plan cut credits for renewable energy while maintaining tax breaks for oil companies. Now, re-read his criticism of Obama: "[S]ingling out and ridiculing tax breaks for oil companies while touting tax credits for renewable energy doesn't move us any closer to the kind of fundamental tax reform we need to stimulate real economic growth and job creation."

Obviously, that's completely disingenuous. Coburn doesn't actually oppose "singling out and ridiculing" one type of break while maintaining another — his own deficit reduction plan did the same thing. His actual objection to Obama's approach is that Coburn wants to continue giving the five biggest oil companies $2 billion a year in tax breaks. And no wonder: The oil & gas industry is his third-largest source of campaign funds.

All of which exposes Coburn's carefully cultivated reputation as a straight-talking, no-holds-barred citizen legislator who will spare no sacred cow in his noble efforts to balance the budget as a fraud, plain and simple. He isn't a principled, tell-it-like-it-is advocate of his preferred policies; he's exactly the kind of disingenuous and parochial politician he decries. If he wasn't, he'd have the guts to say, "There's nothing wrong with singling out certain tax breaks for ridicule while defending others — I do the same thing. But I want to keep giving $2 billion a year to five big oil companies." Instead, he dishonestly lashes out at the president in an effort to hide his own true motives.

Print