LAS VEGAS (AP) — U.S. Sen. Dean Heller sided with Democrats and urged Congress to close some oil company tax loopholes Tuesday in a policy shift that his Democratic rival described as “a back flip that would make an Olympic gymnast proud.”
Heller, a Republican, also called for reduced gas taxes for motorists and urged the federal government to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline during a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday.
Heller’s amendment to a federal oil policy bill represents new terrain for the Nevada Republican, who has voted multiple times against eliminating oil company tax breaks. Many Republicans argue removing these subsidies could drive up fuel costs.
Heller’s staff said his proposed legislation represented a smart compromise that overhauled an unfair tax code while providing consumers relief by reducing gax taxes at the pump and increasing the nation’s fuel supply.
A campaign spokesman for Heller’s likely general election opponent, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, said the policy didn’t “jive with his consistent opposition to repealing subsidies to the Big Oil companies.”
It’s unclear if it will make it to a vote. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada did not say Tuesday whether he would allow for any amendments to the oil bill that represents President Barack Obama’s energy agenda.
Heller’s version differs significantly from the legislation proposed by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey in many respects. Heller would not extend tax credits for plug-in electric vehicles, energy-efficient homes or energy-efficient appliances, which his Senate office described as “failed stimulus programs.” The amendment calls for increasing domestic oil production and limiting federal oversight and requirements.
But his proposed policy would also end some of the same oil subsidies that Democrats seek to repeal, a move that reflects Heller’s recent efforts to appease his conservative base while also courting moderates who want Republicans and Democrats to work together in Congress. Nevada is a battleground state and most elections are won in the middle of the political scale.
Heller spokesman Stewart Bybee said the amendment is consistent with Heller’s longtime promise to close corporate tax loopholes. Heller has also called for working across the aisle to compromise on issues important to taxpayers.
Bybee called the measure revenue neutral. He said any increase in fuel costs caused by eliminating the tax breaks would be offset by the reduced gas tax and the increase in domestic fuel production. In contrast, the Democrats’ proposal aims to partly reduce the federal deficit through oil tax revenue.
Heller has been an outspoken proponent of the proposed 1,700-mile oil Keystone pipeline that would bring roughly 700,000 barrels a day from Canada through environmentally sensitive terrain to the Gulf Coast. Environmentalists oppose the project.
President Barack Obama last week called for the speedy approval of the southern leg of the pipeline, which remove a critical bottleneck in the country’s oil transportation system.
The average price in Nevada for regular, unleaded gasoline is $3.88, up 19 cents from a year ago, according to AAA.