GOP blocks Obama's bid to end oil subsidies

Republicans vote to keep big oil tax breaks
President Barack Obama speaks during his visit to oil and gas production fields located on federal lands outside of Maljamar, N.M., Wednesday, March, 21, 2012.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - Climbing gas prices have drivers looking for someone to blame. And politicians are looking to take advantage.

Senate Republicans Thursday shot down President Obama's plan to cut off oil companies' tax breaks.

The president says there's not much he can do to control gas prices. Nonetheless, he's working hard to appear to be trying.

He came to the White House rose garden Thursday to urge the Senate to repeal $4 billion in tax subsidies for big oil companies, even though no one thinks that would lower prices at the pump.

"They can either vote to spend billions of dollars on oil subsidies that keep us trapped in the past," said Mr. Obama, "or they can vote to end these taxpayer subsidies that aren't needed to boost oil production."

But moments after the president's plea, the Senate voted 51-47 against the bill, with four Democrats in the majority.

"Somehow," said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, "they (Democrats) thought that doing this would set up some kind of political win for them. ... I mean, I can't imagine anybody giving them any high fives for not lowering gas prices."

The national average price for regular gas is $3.92 a gallon, up 33 cents from a year ago.

Recent polls show the pain at the pump is very much on the minds of voters.

In one, done by McClatchy-Marist, 77 percent of respondents said gas prices had put at least a "moderate amount" of strain on their family budgets. Sixty-eight percent disapprove of how the president is responding to gas prices, though a majority, 55 percent, also say the oil companies share a great deal of the blame.

All this has raised concern in the White House. Mr. Obama spent two days on the road last week showcasing his willingness to tap all possible energy sources, including solar, new domestic drilling, and speeding up construction of the southern portion of the Keystone Pipeline. And this week, the Interior Department announced it would begin studying possible drilling sites off the Atlantic coast.

But for all this, the White House remains on the defensive.

"There is no silver bullet," says presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney. "There's not a magic wand ... that somehow allows you to reduce the price at the pump."

It's been bad news for presidents up for re-election when gas prices go up.

They rose in 1980, 1992, 2000, and there was a huge jump in 2008 - and the incumbent, or his party, lost. That may be just a coincidence. But it's forecast that gas prices will continue to rise this spring and over the summer - and they're already over $4 a gallon in many places.

To see Bill Plante's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Bill Plante

    Bill Plante is a CBS News Senior White House Correspondent