WASHINGTON — The White House and its Democratic allies in Congress are launching a campaign to tie Republicans to unpopular oil companies as gas prices continue to surge, nearing $4 a gallon this week amid reports of gangbuster profits by energy companies.
Senate Democrats will push forward as early as next week with a bill to end more than $4 billion in annual subsidies to oil and gas companies over Republican objections that the legislation could cost jobs. The bill's immediate prospects look dim because it is unlikely to win passage in the Republican-dominated House.
President Barack Obama began the week by pressing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to agree that the tax subsidies should be rolled back. Republicans responded by arguing that Obama has blocked measures to generate new domestic sources of oil that could bring down the price of gas. They said that eliminating the tax breaks could destroy jobs while doing nothing to bring down the price of fuel.
The actions by the White House and allies come as Obama, already facing public discontent over high unemployment, is at risk of being blamed for the jump in oil prices.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that the spike in gas prices is eating away at the president's popularity. In a hypothetical matchup with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the GOP front-runner in the Post-ABC poll, Romney wins by 24 points among independents who have taken a severe financial hit because of the increase. A McClatchy-Marist poll this month reported that far more Americans blame oil companies for surging prices than either political party.
Obama acknowledged the popularity problem last week at a fundraiser, saying, "My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis, and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people."
Republicans stress that Democrats have unsuccessfully tried to tie them to oil companies every time fuel prices have risen.
"When drivers are paying four bucks a gallon, no amount of political scapegoating is going to distract them from the administration's sustained effort to block and slow the production of American energy," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner.
By raising the issue of tax subsidies, White House officials say they're addressing the need for new tax revenues while investing in vital areas like clean energy.
One of the biggest oil companies, Exxon — which reported Thursday that its profit rose 69 percent to $10.65 billion during the first three months of the year — shot back at the debate consuming Washington.
"We understand that it's simply too irresistible for many politicians in times of high oil prices and high earnings — they feel they have to demonize our industry," Ken Cohen, Exxon's vice president for public and global affairs, said on a conference call with analysts.