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Big Oil headed for tougher Congress

Democrats may repeal tax breaks for oil companies and propose their own energy package.

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So far this year, 40 bills have been introduced in Congress about alleged gasoline price gouging. Twenty-one bills have addressed windfall profits by oil companies. Few have gotten past the press-release stage.

But next year, Big Oil is likely to feel as if it's wearing one of those "kick me" signs.

The Democratic leadership has already indicated it will try to repeal earlier tax breaks for oil companies. A gusher of new legislation could develop as well, as Democrats get a chance to see their energy bills move past the trash can. In fact, the Democrats will try to put together their own version of a comprehensive energy bill that tackles everything from gas-mileage standards to tax breaks for alternative energy sources, some congressional analysts believe.

"The oil companies are a big target for the Democratic majority," says Steven Smith, a congressional expert and professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "There is virtually near unanimity among the Democrats to do something about company tax breaks, but they will almost certainly seek a package of energy and environmental proposals in this Congress."

Congress is expected to move despite the fact oil and gasoline prices have been falling. Oil is now less than $57 a barrel, compared with more than $70 last spring. Gasoline is about $2.23 a gallon – 6 cents a gallon lower than a year ago, and more than 75 cents lower than in the spring.

"The surge in legislation earlier this year was due to the gas prices, as virtually every member of Congress wanted to go on the record as doing something about it," says Mr. Smith. "I don't think anyone lifted a finger to get that legislation passed."

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