Last week, National Journal's Political Insiders poll found a general consensus among Democrats and Republicans: rising gas prices help the GOP. Part of this likely because there's a Democrat currently in the White House, part of it has to do messaging: pain at the pump encourages Republicans to push for more drilling.
But it turns out Democrats are not without a case of their own. Instead of just pushing back against the GOP talking points, and explaining that new drilling won't actually lower gas prices, Dems are targeting generous tax subsidies currently going to the oil industry -- subsidies Republicans are desperate to protect.
Here, for example, was President Obama's message in a speech in New Hampshire earlier today.
For those who can't watch clips online, here's the quote:
"Right now, 4 billion of your tax dollars -- 4 billion -- subsidize the oil industry every year. Four billion dollars. These companies that are making record profits right now -- tens of billions of dollars a year. Every time you fill up your gas tank, they're making money. Does anyone really think Congress should give them another 4 billion dollars this year?"Of course not. That's outrageous. It's inexcusable. And I am asking Congress to eliminate this oil industry giveaway right away. I want them to vote on this in the next few weeks. Let's put every single member of Congress on record -- you can either stand up for the oil companies, or you can stand up for the American people. You can keep subsidizing a fossil fuel that's been getting taxpayer dollars for a century, or you can place your bets on a clean energy future. So I'm asking everybody here today, and everyone watching at home, let your members of Congress know where you stand."
DCCC Chair Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) is thinking along the same lines, telling Greg Sargent last week, "We've told our candidates that they should remind people that we've actually increased domestic energy production, and talk about solutions-oriented energy policies that would end our catastrophic dependence on foreign oil. We are urging them to hold House Republicans accountable for consistently protecting oil company subsidies."
Of course, it's only fair to ask whether eliminating oil-industry tax subsidies would actually lower prices. The answer is pretty straightforward: the move would offer about as much relief at the pump as "drill, baby, drill."
The point, in other words, is political -- every time a consumer fills up his or her tank, Democrats want that American to think, "I'm paying for the gas and I'm paying for the tax subsidies going to wealthy oil companies that don't need them."
In an election year, that's a fairly potent concept, especially since drilling isn't all that popular anyway. In plenty of congressional districts, if the debate this fall comes down to a Dem who's pushing alternative fuels and a Republican fighting tooth and nail to give subsidies to ExxonMobil, it's the sort of dynamic that may undermine the GOP's edge on the issue.