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As Republicans push for more offshore drilling, Democrats plan vote on repealing tax breaks for oil companies

Oil barrel
Oil barrel, drawing, over US 20 dollar bill, partial graphic AP/CBS

Two parties, two very different approaches to the issue of high gas prices.

Republicans this week are readying a vote on legislation that would ease restrictions on offshore oil drilling in an attempt to increase domestic supply. Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking a vote on repealing billions of dollars worth of tax subsidies for the oil industry.

The Hill reports that Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop (N.Y.) is expected to motion for a "previous question" during Thursday debate on GOP legislation that aims to expand and expedite domestic oil-and-gas production. The procedural move, which is predicated on Bishop's proposal this week of the "Big Oil Welfare Repeal Act," would enable Democrats to force a vote on repealing tax credits for the five largest oil companies.

"This is legislation that is long overdue and it is impossible to justify the continuation of these tax credits," Bishop said on Wednesday.

House Democrats are hoping to use the vote to get Republicans on the record regarding the billions of dollars in tax incentives for oil and gas companies that many in the GOP have resisted eliminating.

While the measure will likely fail in the GOP-dominated House, Democrats nevertheless hope to take advantage what appears to be a some friction within the Republican party on the matter of the controversial incentives.

"I think there are already clear divisions within the House Republican caucus on how damaging it would be to vote to keep tax subsidies for an industry where the top five companies made more than $30 billion in the first three months of the year," an unnamed House Democratic aide told the Hill on Wednesday.

Indeed, leading Republicans have shown some willingness to budge on the matter. In an interview last week, House Speaker John Boehner told ABC News that oil and gas companies are "gonna pay their fair share in taxes - and they should." (Boehner's office later walked back the comments.) And leading Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, has voiced support for potentially ending the subsidies.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and the sponsor of the Republican bills, said they reflect Americans' desire to move forward with the nation's energy policy.

"What needs to be addressed is we need to deal with our American energy consumption, and I think the public is going to demand that," he said, according to the Hill.

And Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) argued that Democrats would try to pin Republicans to the oil industry regardless of an on-the-record vote over the controversial tax incentives.

"They're going to say that no matter what we do," he argued. "That's just the reality. If we were in the minority and they were proposing something we didn't like, we'd be beating the crap out of them too."

Democrats had previously planned to offer to a series of amendments to one of the GOP bills. But according to the Hill some feared the amendments, which would have both repealed the controversial tax breaks and effectively reversed the impact of the bill altogether, would not have made it past the Rules Committee, which is meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to push for a Senate vote on a proposal that would eliminate the tax breaks for oil companies, although some have expressed doubts that Democrats have the 60 votes likely needed to pass it.

"I think we'll have a very difficult time getting anywhere close to 60 votes. He might have 50, but I don't think he has 60," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who has previously voted against eliminating the subsidies. "Just to single out oil and gas companies just to score some political points is not something I'm supportive of."

Reid is expected to make an announcement on the issue on Wednesday.