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Mrs. McCASKILL. Madam President, I rise to speak in support of the legislation that is going to be voted on in a few hours. I have listened to the last couple of speakers, and while I certainly respect Senator Coburn's commitment to fiscal responsibility--and he and I have worked together on a number of projects in that regard and have the same view of many of the spending habits around here--I have to say, I am a little confused by the opposition to this legislation by my friends across the aisle.
We have two ways to spend money around here: one, through the appropriations process; the other is what I call tax goodies. These goodies are called tax expenditures. What these do is they basically say to whatever group has successfully lobbied for them: You are not going to have to pay all your taxes. So there are two ways we deny the Treasury money. One is by spending money. The other is by telling people: You do not have to pay the money the Tax Code says you owe. And we put into the Tax Code special deals.
Many of those special deals are done because the case is made that they spur economic development or they spur some kind of activity in our country that we think is desirable. A good example is the interest deduction on people's homes. The notion is that we want to encourage people to buy homes, so we allow them to deduct the interest they pay on those home loans against their income tax.
Charitable deductions are another good example. We want people to give to charities, so we say: Do you know what. You do not have to pay as much in taxes if you give to charity.
The realty sector is full of tax goodies for the development of real estate and the creation of jobs that go with the development of real estate.
One of the big tax expenditures we have in our Tax Code is goodies for Big Oil. That is what this is about. Can we get to where we need to be on our structural debt and our annual deficit without touching the Tax Code? No way. Are we going to have to look at revenues for multimillionaires? I think we are. Are we, obviously, going to have to look at spending? Of course we are. And aren't we going to have to look at the tax goodies? Well, I would surely hope so, because, frankly, as some of my colleagues across the aisle have said--and I thought they agreed with us--cleaning out some of those goodies could potentially lower taxes for everyone.
So where do we start with the goodies that are in the Tax Code? Might we not start with the most profitable companies in the history of the planet? Do they need this extra money we give them by telling them they do not have to pay the taxes other companies have to pay? How many quarters will we have where we read the headlines: ``Record-Breaking Profits for Big Oil''? How many times are we going to read that before we are willing to take the baby step--just the baby step--of saying: Maybe these tax goodies for Big Oil are not a good idea in light of our deficit and our debt. Maybe this is a good place to start. They made north of $35 billion in the last 3 months.
I know there are all kinds of things that are being put out there to kind of hide behind as we cast this vote because this is a tough vote for people who vote no. How do you explain to your constituents--who are struggling around their kitchen table to figure out how they can afford to drive their kids to soccer practice--how do you explain to them that we think that instead of $123 billion of profit Big Oil is going to make this year, they need to make $125 billion? That is what this is. Instead of making $125 billion--north of $125 billion--of profit this year, Big Oil is going to have to suffer along with only $123 billion in profit. And that $2 billion we want to take back from them is going to go toward the deficit. How do you explain that to people around their kitchen table?
Oh, this means the cost of fuel is going to go up. Everyone has debunked that. Really? The cost of fuel has gone up just fine and they have all those subsidies. I remember when oil was $55 a barrel and they had all these subsidies. By the way, all these subsidies did not help them go out and do what they needed to do to keep the price of fuel down.
By the way, today a letter was sent to the FTC by myself and other Members of the Senate saying: What about this refinery process? Talk about economic illiteracy. Anybody who believes the oil companies today are making 7 cents of profit on a gallon of gas has no idea what is going on with refineries right now. A year ago at this time, refineries were operating at a capacity of close to 90 percent. Today, they are only operating at 80 percent. Why would that be? Their profit per gallon of gas--just the refineries--has gone from less than 40 cents a gallon to 80 cents a gallon in a matter of a few months: 80 cents a gallon of refinery profit. Some of these refineries are independently owned. But many of them are owned by the big five, the big five big oil.
So why is that capacity down? Is it because they do not have crude to go through the refining process? No. There is plenty of crude. And how about this. We are giving these big oil companies tax goodies, and what are they doing today? They are exporting a record amount of oil and fuel from the United States--exporting. They are sending it to South America and Mexico.
So while my constituents are suffering mightily at the gas pump, week after week, these guys are sending the oil they have produced with our tax goodies to another country, instead of putting that additional supply into our supply chain, which, in turn, reduces the price.
The more supply, the less the price. So, one, they have cut back refining capacity. Two, they are exporting more. And they want to say it is about drilling. Really? We have more rigs drilling right now in this country than we have had in many years. We have production higher at this point--domestic production--than it was at the end of the Bush administration. We just issued 12 new deepwater permits in the last few months. There are all kinds of leases out there that are not being explored. Meanwhile, cha-ching, cha-ching--these big oil companies are continuing to make profits that make your jaw drop.
So, honestly, seriously, you talk about economic illiteracy. I will tell you what economic illiteracy is. It is thinking these companies--what about the free market I always hear about from the other side of the aisle? What about that free market? Why do they need our tax goodies to help them if this is truly a free market?
Maybe they are right. Maybe we shouldn't pick on Big Oil. But what a great place to start. Frankly, if we can't take these things away from the most profitable companies in the history of the planet, how are we ever going to take them away from the mohair industry or how are we ever going to do what we need to do with the Tax Code in the real estate sector or any of the other goodies we have larded up our Tax Code with to make it so complicated and so long that, frankly, the people who get the most advantages out of it are the families who can afford to hire accountants and tax lawyers. Meanwhile, the real tax rate for most Americans is much higher than the real tax rate for most multinational corporations.
So I think economic illiteracy is to spend a lot of time talking about the debt and deficit and not being willing to take this baby step to take back $2 billion a year that these companies get that they do not need and they are not using to hold down the price of gas.
I mean, when I realized how cynical this whole process has become is when today I got a question from a reporter that said: Well, the oil companies say most of these profits are going to these pension companies. Give me a break. You know, really? Really? These guys want to talk about free market and how this is all about the bottom line, and then they want to try to hide behind the fact that some of the pension funds have stock in their companies, that somehow that justifies them feeding at the public trough? Talk about greed. Talk about greed.
So I think this legislation is a real litmus test because if we can't do this, then I question what we can do to right this ship that is all about the footprint of the Federal Government, how much money we are spending and how many tax expenditures are out there. And anybody who tells you this is about raising their taxes--no, this is about saying to them: You have to pay the taxes the free market says you should pay, not avoid taxes by these extra goodies. This isn't about raising their taxes; this is about saying: You need to pay your taxes the way average citizens do, as it relates to their businesses. You should not get this extra help in the Tax Code that allows you to avoid taxes. It is a tax expenditure. It is real money that will come to our bottom line as it relates to our deficit, and it is important to get it done.
I yield the floor.
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