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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, American families all around the country, certainly including Louisiana, are suffering as the price at the pump goes up and up. It does so just as we are trying to get ready to enjoy a little vacation time with our families, use more gasoline maybe driving places. That is always tough. But it is not just a typical summer experience. This is worse than ever. I have the sinking feeling this is more permanent. I am afraid this is not a blip, that this is a long-term trend and it is hitting American families in the pocketbook hard. It is hitting Louisianans in the pocketbook hard.
At the same time we see historic turmoil in the Middle East. We see so many signs that we need to get hold of our energy picture. So energy and the need for, among other things, increased domestic energy production is absolutely crucial.
That is why it is so darn disappointing what we are going to do or, perhaps more appropriately, not do on this crucial subject in the Senate this week.
First of all, it is disappointing because we are going to end up doing nothing. We are going to have some votes--we are going to have some debate--that are more or less messaging votes and nothing comes of it. That is disappointing because America needs leadership and action, not just posturing.
Secondly, it is disappointing, in my opinion, when we look at the two proposals before us. Because I am deeply disappointed in them, I am going to vote against both proposals--the Menendez bill and the McConnell bill--although for very different reasons.
The first vote will be later today on the Menendez bill. I am afraid this bill is just pure political demagoguery--attacking Big Oil because I suppose the author and some Members think that is an easy target and meanwhile doing nothing substantive about the real problem, providing no relief to Americans who are paying more and more at the pump.
The bill purports to do away with taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil. Let me give the factual translation of that. The factual translation is to increase taxes on certain energy companies by disallowing them from claiming the same sort of deductions and credits that thousands of other American businesses and manufacturers can claim, some of which go back and are almost as old as the income tax itself. That is the factual translation.
Let me also give the translation of what it would do, according to nonpartisan sources, such as the Congressional Research Service. It would decrease gasoline supply and increase price at the pump. What a great result. American families are suffering as it is going into the summer with historically high prices. Measures are being proposed on the floor that would actually decrease supply and increase price, exactly the opposite of what we need.
I am completely open to doing away with all sorts of deductions and exemptions in the Tax Code, but we should do that overall, across all industries, across all groups in America as part of fundamental tax reform. We should not just demagog the issue and target one industry and a few companies.
The President's own deficit commission suggested that brand of fundamental tax reform. I agree with that general approach. Unfortunately, so far the President has not led on that issue, perhaps because it would mean not just impacts on big oil but maybe favorite companies of his, such as GE, that might have to pay some taxes or maybe gold mining companies in Majority Leader Reid's State of Nevada would also have to sacrifice very attractive special tax benefits.
Let's get serious about two serious issues: fundamental tax reform and let's look at that and lead on that and let's get serious about energy.
I also have to say I am deeply disappointed with the McConnell bill. It does some positive things at the margin in terms of opening access. But meanwhile, the very first section of the bill, the very first substantive section, which is section 2, actually increases the regulatory burden in the permitting process.
I can tell you, living in the gulf, we have been trying to slog through that overly burdensome permitting process to let energy companies get permits to begin with. That process is already too burdensome, too cumbersome, too long. It virtually shut down the gulf, produced less energy, and has thrown a lot of Louisianans and Americans out of work. We need to streamline that process. We need to accelerate that process, not add any new burdens and any new hurdles in it.
Unfortunately, section 2 of the McConnell bill does exactly that. It increases the burdens and requirements and hurdles of even the new Obama regulations that have been put in place since the BP disaster. Specifically, since the BP disaster, the Obama administration has required containment plans to be presented and approved by the Interior Department before exploration plans and drilling permits are issued.
This bill would go further than that and add a new layer and a new level and a new requirement that even before submission to Interior, these containment plans would have to be third-party reviewed. Again, I think this is a completely unnecessary extra burden, extra hurdle, extra layer of requirement. We need to make the permitting process smoother, more streamlined, more accelerated, not move in the opposite direction.
Secondly, while the McConnell bill opens a little bit more access, it is very modest. It does not touch the eastern gulf. It hardly touches the Atlantic. It does not touch the Pacific coast. It does nothing onshore, including in our western shale areas, where there are enormous oil resources trapped in that western shale which we can access because of new and safe technology. I am also disappointed that the bill is so modest in terms of increased access.
To summarize, this week is pretty darn frustrating for me. It is frustrating because we are not going to do anything. There is going to be a whole bunch of sound and fury, in the end signifying nothing--all too common an experience in the Senate.
When we look at the two specific proposals, they are darn frustrating--the first pure demagoguery; the second moving in the wrong direction in terms of the permitting process and not being big and bold enough in terms of opening access.
The United States is the single most energy-rich country in the world, bar none. Only Russia even comes close. No Middle Eastern country--Saudi Arabia, anyone else--comes close to our overall energy richness, our resources. But we are the only country in the world that puts 95 percent of all those resources off-limits under law; says, no, can't touch the eastern gulf, can't touch the Atlantic, can't touch the Pacific, can't touch Alaska offshore, can't touch ANWR, going to make it difficult in western shale.
Over and over we make it difficult to impossible to produce good, reliable American energy right here at home. Most recently we have done that by virtually shutting down the only productive part of the United States in terms of energy--the western Gulf of Mexico. That is what we need to change. We need to change that in a big way.
In closing, let me say, I am a proponent of all of the above. It is not either/or. It is not just oil and gas. But it is also not just new, undeveloped, advancing forms of technology and energy. We need all of the above in a big way. Let's come together around that commonsense wisdom of the American people who favor all of the above, and let's start doing all of the above aggressively. But that surely has to include much more domestic production of energy, open access to all these vast resources we have. We can do it. We can do it safely. We need to do it to provide some relief to American families.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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