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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan August 7, 2008

McCain opposes taxes but hasn't commented on bill

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign says Sen. John McCain is a Washington insider with a special place in his heart for oil companies.

"McCain has consistently chosen profits for the oil companies over energy relief for American families," said a recent press released issued by the campaign. McCain even refused to back a new bipartisan energy compromise in the Senate "because it would take away tax breaks from oil companies like Exxon Mobil."

Turns out the Obama campaign is off base with its charge that McCain opposes the new measure.

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled the proposal on Aug. 1, 2008. Called the New Energy Reform Act of 2008 or New ERA, the measure advocates expanded offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, incentives and research to transition cars to alternative fuels, and a number of conservation and energy efficiency proposals. To pay for the incentives, the act would roll back about $30-billion in tax deductions that oil and gas companies currently receive, among other things.

The group of senators supporting the initiative calls itself the "Gang of 10," hearkening back to the "Gang of 14," a group of senators (including McCain) that came together in 2005 to prevent filibusters of federal judicial nominees.

As proposed, the Gang of 10's measure includes things that both candidates don't like. Obama has said no to oil drilling, while McCain has opposed additional taxes.

The day the proposal was unveiled, Obama said he was willing to consider drilling if the plan included enough other measures for energy independence.

"If it is part of an overarching package then I am not going to be rigid in preventing an energy package that goes forward that is really thoughtful and is going to really solve the problem," Obama told the St. Petersburg Times . (We ruled this change of position a Half Flip on the Flip-o-Meter .)

Meanwhile, an unnamed spokesman for McCain told the Wall Street Journal that while McCain "applauds the bipartisan effort," he wouldn't support the proposal because "he cannot and will not support legislation that raises taxes."

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The next week, Obama's campaign announced it would send supporters to Florida gas stations to promote Obama's energy policies and knock McCain's.

"Supporters will also highlight Sen. John McCain's failure to do anything to address the energy crisis during his 26 years in Washington," the campaign said in a statement. "McCain has consistently chosen profits for the oil companies over energy relief for American families, including voting against fuel mileage standards, opposing renewable sources of energy, and refusing to back the bipartisan energy compromise in the Senate because it would take away tax breaks from oil companies like Exxon Mobil."

We wanted to know if McCain was opposing the bill and if it was because of rescinded tax breaks for oil companies. One unattributed statement in the Wall Street Journal seemed like not much evidence on which to hang such a charge.

For all the prepared statements the McCain campaign has put out on energy policy — we've got dozens — we couldn't find one that specifically addressed the new proposal. So we asked Brian Rogers, a campaign spokesman, about it. Rogers said McCain is opposed to tax increases, and would not support legislation that included tax increases. But he also said that the Gang of 10 has yet to present a draft of the legislation, and that McCain "would certainly look at any legislation."

"He hasn't taken a position on it, because there's no specific legislation," Rogers said. Rogers also pointed us to an Aug. 6 article from the Shreveport Times in which spokesman Tucker Bounds made similar statements that McCain was essentially uncommitted on the legislation.

The Senate is in recess as we reported this statement. But the Gang of 10 hopes to have a proposal finalized when the Senate returns in September, said a spokesman for Sen. Kent Conrad, D-S.D., a member of the group.

The other senators include Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; John Thune, R-S.D.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; and Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

It will be interesting to see what happens in September, but for now, the statement from the Obama campaign pushes McCain's position too far. It's true that McCain's campaign said he won't support the legislation if it includes tax increases, but technically speaking, McCain has not taken a position on the new measure and he has not "refused to support it."

McCain may well end up opposing this legislation if his antitax sentiment wins out over his desire to expand offshore drilling. But at the time the Obama campaign made its statement, it wasn't an accurate summary of McCain's position. We rule the statement False.

Our Sources

Kent Conrad Senate Web site, Conrad, 'Gang of 10' Unveil Plan to Reduce Energy Prices and New Energy Reform Act of 2008 , Aug. 1, 2008

St. Petersburg Times, Considering new energy plan, Obama softens stance on drilling , Aug. 1, 2008

Wall Street Journal, Democrats, Republicans Team Up on Oil Bill , Aug. 2, 2008

Interview with Brian Rogers, spokesperson for the John McCain campaign

Shreveport Times, Obama, McCain outline revamped energy proposals , Aug. 6, 2008, Recent polls on public opinion about oil companies

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McCain opposes taxes but hasn't commented on bill

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