WASHINGTON — The unapologetic — indeed combative — testimony on Thursday by top oil executives summoned to defend multi-billion tax subsidies for their industry infuriated some Senate Democrats, one of whom accused the executives of being “profoundly out of touch” with average Americans.
The heads of the Big Five oil companies, currently enjoying a windfall from high oil prices, soundly rejected a Democratic request that they renounce $2 billion in tax breaks, declaring instead that they were entitled to every penny.
It was all too much for Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
"I get the feeling that it’s almost like you’re — like the five of you are like Saudi Arabia. That you’re caught up in your profits, you’re highly defensive, you yield on nothing," he said. "I think you’re out of touch. Deeply, profoundly out of touch. And deeply and profoundly committed to sharing nothing."
"The nature of your life, the nature of your international travel, the nature of the size of your profits — I don’t think you have any idea what the size of your profits does to the American people’s willingness to accept what you have to say," Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller, a five-term senator whose great grandfather built the giant Standard Oil monopoly, also called attention to the oil industry’s unparalleled clout on Capitol Hill.
"I think the main reason that you’re out of touch, particularly with respect to Americans, and the sacrifices that we’re having to look at here in terms of try to balance — trying to come close to balancing the budget — is that you never lose," Rockefeller said to the executives. "You’ve never lost. You always prevail. You always prevail in the halls of Congress, and you do that for a whole variety of reasons, because of your lobbyists, because of your friends, because of all the places where you do business. And I don’t really know any other business that never loses," he said.
"I’ve just never seen any industry so successful, so constantly successful. I think you all have a great sense of assurance as you are sitting there. … I don’t think you feel threatened by anything that’s going on here, and I don’t know necessarily that you have any reason to feel threatened, because of the way votes line up in this present Congress.
"I haven’t heard anybody say what they would be willing to do to share in our budget problem and in the total concept of what keeps America together, and that is essentially fairness. That everybody has to lose at some time. That everybody has to give something up for us to be a real country."