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CENK UYGUR, HOST: Good evening, everybody. I‘m Cenk Uygur.
President Obama is ramping up the fight against oil companies today, and he is calling them out for how they rigged the game in Washington, which is excellent news. Today, the president sent a letter to congressional leaders, calling on them to end the $4 billion in tax breaks handed out to big oil every single year.
The White House is betting it‘s an issue that will resonate with voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: To then tell them that, actually, we need to spend $4 billion a year of their money to subsidize oil companies who, this week, are reporting massive profits, is just not a credible argument.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: There you go, baby. There you go. That‘s on message. That‘s exactly the right way to go.
Now, even some Republicans are starting to waiver on this. Speaker John Boehner shocked the GOP establishment by suggesting he supported ending the oil subsidies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Everybody wants to go after the oil companies. And frankly, they have got some part of this to blame.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So would you be in favor of seeing some of these subsidies that are going to big oil at times of record profits—
BOEHNER: It‘s certainly something that we ought to be looking at.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doing away with these subsidies?
BOEHNER: We‘re at a time when the federal government is short on revenues. We need to control spending, but we need to have revenues to keep the government moving. And they ought to be paying their fair share.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: That was a surprising moment of clarity from Boehner, so you knew it wasn‘t going to last. Of course his people quickly walked it back. Here comes the backpedal.
His spokesman said, “The Speaker made clear in the interview that raising taxes was a nonstarter. And he has told the president that. He simply wasn‘t going to take the bait and fall into the trap of defending big oil companies.”
Except that‘s exactly what they do and that‘s exactly what that walkback is saying. Oh, no, no, no. Of course we will never, ever raise taxes on the oil companies. In fact, we will continue to give them subsidies because they are our boss. And so we reminded the Speaker who he works for and he said, of course, no, I will not be raising taxes on big oil, I will defend them.
Now, this debate is over subsidies because we have got tremendous gas price problems. Gas hit an average of $3.87 a gallon today. And that climb towards $4 a gallon is starting to have political effects, which is unsurprising.
A new “Washington Post” poll shows 71 percent of Americans say high gas prices are causing them financial hardship. And among Independents suffering from gas prices, just 28 percent approve of President Obama. That is a devastating number. And 60 percent say they definitely will not vote for him next year.
Oh. You have got to be concerned about that if you‘re the president –
and it appears he is.
Now, a clear sign from the president that he has got to shift the debate back to where it belongs, which is the big oil companies and the Republicans who absolutely adore them. And it‘s very encouraging today that he seems to have picked up on that fight.
Joining me now is Congressman Earl Blumenauer. He‘s a Democrat from Oregon where, today, gas prices unfortunately hit $3.88 a gallon. And he‘s introduced a bill to roll back subsidies to big oil.
So, now, Congressman, obviously you are on top of this. You‘re the one who introduced the bill. But does the rest of your caucus get the urgency of this? I mean, as far as political issues goes, this could not be any larger.
Is there a plan by the Democrats in Congress to say we‘ve got to focus on this and nothing else until we get this done?
REP. EARL BLUMENAUER (D), BUDGET COMMITTEE: Well, Cenk, we already did put this front and center during the debate on the budget two weeks ago. We offered up some amendments that would have taken away these unnecessary tax breaks to be able to restore some of the Draconian cuts.
And as you know, the president has put some of this in his budget proposals that he had already submitted. And I will guarantee you, my friends on the Democratic side of the aisle will continue to beat this drum. I—
UYGUR: So, Congressman, here is the thing. Look, I know obviously you‘re on the right side of this. You‘re the one who introduced the bill. The president has actually pushed for this every year he is in office, so you absolutely have to give him credit there.
The question is, how do we get it done, right? Because the American people are definitely behind you. What is it, 74 percent right now of Americans say that they want to end the oil subsidies?
So, how do you force the Republicans to vote on this? How do you actually get it to a point where they either say yes, I am absolutely with the oil companies and will continue to be every single day, or they say, all right, you win, you win, OK, we‘re not with the oil companies?
BLUMENAUER: Well, what is going to have to happen is that we are in the House, where revenue measures are supposed to originate, we have to get a crack on the side of the Republicans. What we saw with Speaker Boehner responding—and I thought it was very encouraging that he would say that. Remember, President Bush said that when oil prices hit $50 a barrel, they didn‘t need subsidies anymore.
I think you are seeing a perfect storm where we have gas prices going up again. This is an area we have been trying to work on. The president is ramping it up. I personally think that we have got some momentum here, and I think there‘s—I‘m optimistic that we can—
UYGUR: Right. But Congressman, I want to focus on, how do you use that momentum, right? Because you‘re right. I mean, obviously, 74 percent, and you‘ve got the gas prices going through the roof.
And we are giving away $4 billion of our money every single year to the most profitable companies in the world. That is why we keep pounding on it here on this show, and that‘s why you guys have brought it up.
But how? How do you do it? Is there a way that you guys can say, hey, you know what, we are not voting on any budgetary issues, we are not going to do anything else until we resolve this issue?
BLUMENAUER: Well, under the rules of the House, the Republican majority dictate what goes to the floor. We have opportunities with our motions to recommit, we have opportunities where we‘re going to be involved with negotiations between the House and the Senate on the budget to be able to focus on this with our colleagues in the Senate.
We don‘t have as many tools since we are not in charge. But I do think there are opportunities with the budget going forward, with the increasing public concern, with Speaker Boehner giving a little daylight to the issue. I think there may be opportunities for us to put this in as the budget process moves back and forth between the House and the Senate.
UYGUR: I want to ask you one more thinning, Congressman, but I actually want to show you a clip from John Boehner in that same interview where he actually talked about the debt ceiling. And there‘s a reason why I‘m going to show it to you, but let‘s watch it first and then I‘ll come and ask you about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER: What did the president do? He took exactly none of his own deficit reduction commission‘s ideas. Not one. Come on! It‘s time to grow up and get serious about the problems that face our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: I mean, when I watch that, that‘s incredibly disrespectful. Here he is telling the president, oh, you better grow up. Who is he to tell the president that?
The reason I run that for you is, look, these guys are always in your face. They‘re attacking you personally, whether it‘s you, it‘s the congressmen in general, whether it‘s the president, all the time.
Is it time for you guys to respond likewise, to call out people, name names and say, John Boehner works for the oil companies and we are not going to let him get away with it?
BLUMENAUER: Well, I mean, there has been a concerted effort to be able to move these things forward. We are having the ticking time bomb which is the Republican budget that is slowly unraveling before them. The president, as you know, has advanced a series of initiatives dealing with accelerating the savings under health care. He has put this particular item before Congress before.
From my vantage point, I don‘t think we want to get into a name-calling effort with Republicans.
UYGUR: I disagree.
BLUMENAUER: But I do think—well, that‘s fine. But I am personally working with my colleagues to be able to put this forward with the American public. I don‘t think name-calling actually does a lot of good.
UYGUR: Look, you know, Congressman—
BLUMENAUER: We are going to lose the name-calling contest with them.
UYGUR: No. No. You‘re wrong. Look, I love you, but you‘re wrong.
You know, here‘s why. Here‘s why I say that.
Look, they call you guys names all the time. That‘s why we just showed you the poll where people blame the president for the gas prices, because they did the stupid “Drill, baby, drill” bit and it worked.
And they say, oh, it‘s the Democrats‘ fault for the gas prices when it‘s not, because they are vicious in how they attack you. When you guys sit back and you‘re not as vicious, honestly, and you say well, you know, and the next thing you know, people blame you when it‘s not your fault at all. That‘s why I say there is a purpose behind the name-calling. It‘s not just to be, like, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah.
BLUMENAUER: Well, I think we may agree to disagree. I‘m thinking of Harry Truman, who talked about the Republicans complaining about giving him — about him giving them hell, and he was saying no, I‘m just telling the truth and it will seem like hell.
UYGUR: All right.
BLUMENAUER: And I think our telling the truth, being focused and following through, is, I think, an appropriate response.
UYGUR: All right.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who definitely has the right bill on oil subsidies.
Thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
BLUMENAUER: Always a pleasure, Cenk.
UYGUR: All right.
Now let‘s bring in Katrina vanden Heuvel. She‘s the editor of “The Nation.” I want to get a progressive perspective here.
Katrina, what does the progressive community have to do, whether it‘s magazines like “The Nation,” it‘s the blogs, et cetera, to turn up the heat on this issue?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, “THE NATION”: Well, I think it‘s citizens of conscience who care about the future of this country, because a 21st century clean economy, clean energy economy, is what it‘s about.
But what interests me, Cenk, is, underlying all of this is, to me, the central issue of our time, which is corporate power. It is corporate power that has bought the oil and gas companies the ability to evade taxes. It has bought the oil and gas companies the ability to buy these subsidies, these senseless, wasteful subsidies, at a moment when the American people need reinvestment in their health care, their education. And those things are being slashed.
So, I think it‘s important for the congressmen, for the House, to call out what I might call the gas and oil party, the gang of polluters. Call a vote, expose them for what they are.
Democrats are taking money from oil and gas, but 75 to 80 percent of that money is going to the Gang of Polluter Party. It used to be the Grand Ole Party. Call them out.
And then propose smart legislation. I would go beyond rolling back the subsidies. I‘d talk about windfall profits tax.
You are about to see—the price of gas is going up, Cenk. But faster than the price of gas, what‘s going up, are the skyrocketing profits of the oil companies. Reinvest that money in a wise, smart way, because people, overwhelmingly, Cenk, not just progressives—Independents and others—think that corporations have too much power in this country, and they are not paying their fair share by any length of the imagination.
UYGUR: And the reason for that is what we just showed in the graphics there. They spent in 2010, alone, over $146 million in lobbying.
Look, the Democrats have to say these guys are bought. They‘re bought and paid for by these oil companies. And of course. That is who they work for. That‘s why they are funneling your money over to them.
But it has a huge political angle, too, and I want to talk to you about that, because let me show you an old poll about George W. Bush and his approval rating compared to gas prices. Right?
Now, there‘s a lot of issues here. Obviously, 2001 happened.
Obviously, the Iraq War happened. Katrina happened, et cetera.
But when you look at those two numbers—in red is Bush‘s approval rating; in blue is the gas prices—it‘s a stunning correlation.
VANDEN HEUVEL: But this has been part of our political history for decades. But I think what‘s important is not simply to redirect the political conversation, the economic conversation, but to do so in a grounded, realistic way, which President Obama is beginning to do.
And I think he has stood for—there have been cuts, and the nuclear power stuff I think is a big mistake, particularly on this anniversary of Chernobyl, 25 years later. But there is a commitment to the a green energy economy, sustainable energy, efficiency.
This is a moment for Americans to realize they‘ve got to use—take the windfall profits tax that some legislators are proposing and reinvest that money into people‘s pockets who would then buy more efficient cars. We have been here before. It‘s deja vu all over again.
We need to wean ourselves and our addiction to this oil and gas. And, Cenk, I think related to that is you‘ve got to do the political reforms. At least the Democrats are pushing to get money out of our political system.
UYGUR: Right. Absolutely.
VANDEN HEUVEL: And at least they are doing lobbying reform. The Grand Old Polluting Party is in the pocket of big oil and gas. So, call them out.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Call them out.
UYGUR: All right.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of “The Nation.”
Thank you so much for joining us.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Thank you.
UYGUR: And let me just tell the audience one last thing.
Look, the president is definitely on the right path. OK? No question about it. What he did today was terrific.
I think he has got the to say there is no budget deal, there is no nothing until we stop giving away $4 billion of taxpayer money for no damn reason at all to the most profitable companies who are making all that profit from your high gas prices.
It‘s a huge win politically, and much more importantly, it saves us $4 billion a year. It is a huge win, policy-wise.
He has got to press on it. That‘s how you win. It‘s a good first step today. I hope they stay on that path.