House Speaker John Boehner said Monday that Congress should "take a look at" repealing the multibillion-dollar tax subsidies enjoyed by the major oil companies.
The Ohio Republican told "ABC World News" that the government is low on revenues and that oil companies "ought to be paying their fair share." A gallon of gasoline exceeds $4 in some parts of the country.
"We certainly ought to take a look at it," Boehner said. "We're at a time when the federal government's short on revenues. We need to control spending but we need to have revenues to keep the government moving."
For example, Boehner said big oil companies don't need the so-called oil depletion allowance, but that taking it away from smaller producers would mean even less domestically produced oil. The allowance allows producers a tax deduction comparable to the break given manufacturers for depreciation of the value of an investment in plants and equipment.
Boehner is the most powerful Republican in Washington and his remarks could signal a significant change of heart. Republicans have blocked attempts by Democrats to curb oil company subsidies.
Boehner did not endorse the idea, however, and a spokesman said the speaker remains resolute in his opposition to tax increases.
"He simply wasn't going to take the bait and fall into the trap of defending `Big Oil' companies," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
"I want to see the facts. I don't want to hear a bunch of political rhetoric," Boehner said. "I want to know what impact this is going to have on job creation here in America."
Cutting tax breaks for oil companies also could be part of any effort to overhaul the extraordinarily complicated federal tax code. Any tax reform effort would curb tax breaks in exchange for lowering personal and corporate income tax rates.
Boehner also said again that any move this year to increase the federal government's ability to borrow money to meets its obligations must be accompanied by significant cuts in spending.
"I believe it's responsible to increase the debt limit," Boehner said. "It's time to cut up the credit cards. And that means that we've got to have real cuts in spending. And we're not going to be talking about billions here. We're going to be talking about trillions."