U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., who is up for re-election this year, helped block Senate action today on a proposed windfall profits tax on the oil industry. Her Democrat opponent quickly denounced Dole's vote as "callous" and a cave-in to special interests.
Through a spokeswoman, Democratic challenger Kay Hagan said Dole put "the needs of special interests and lobbyists ahead of North Carolina's interests, including those of working families who are struggling to make ends meet." Hagan is a state senator from Guilford County.
In the U.S. Senate, the Democratic majority wanted to impose a 25 percent tax on the portion of the oil industry's record profits that they defined as excessive in comparison to past years. To avoid the tax, the oil companies would've been required to invest in renewable-energy projects or new refinery capacity. The Democrats' bill also sought to repeal oil industry tax breaks worth $17 billion over the coming decade, and apply the money to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.
But the Democratic measure was blocked by the threat of a Republican filibuster. The Democrats mustered 50 and 51 votes, respectively, on a pair of "cloture" votes that would have stopped the filibuster threat. But under longstanding Senate rules, 60 votes (out of 100 senators) are needed to invoke cloture and end a filibuster—even a filibuster that hasn't begun.
On the two votes, a bloc of 41 Republicans voted no—meaning, they supported the filibuster—including Dole and Sen. Richard Burr, the junior North Carolina senator, in both instances. A handful of Republicans broke ranks on one or the other of the two votes and supported the Democrats, but not enough to bring the measure to the floor.
GOP Majority Leader U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the Democrats' plan a "gimmick."
In her statement, Hagan said the oil companies' "obscene profits" and unneeded tax breaks should be redirected to clean-energy investments as a way of creating "good jobs in North Carolina that can't be outsourced" to foreign countries.
A Republican energy plan, defeated recently in the Senate, would've opened up part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling as well as—at the option of each state—most of the nation's coastal waters.
In a position statement on her Senate Web site, Dole is clear about her opposition to drilling off the North Carolina coast, however. "I'll be fighting to ensure that no steps are taken toward drilling off of North Carolina's coast," Dole says. "Offshore drilling not only would be harmful to our environment, it would be detrimental to an industry that is extremely important to North Carolina's coastal economy—tourism."