The energy policy that wasn’t

And the emerging answer, in the backlash over rising gas prices, is: No. At least for that part of the $12.3 billion measure that provides generous tax breaks and subsidies to the oil and gas industry.

In addressing what is now his second-biggest political problem after Iraq, Bush said, “Record oil prices and large cash flows also mean that Congress has got to understand that these energy companies don’t need unnecessary tax breaks like the write-offs of certain geological and geophysical expenditures, or the use of taxpayers’ money to subsidize energy companies’ research into deepwater drilling.”

Only last August, when he signed the bill, those tax breaks and write-offs were indeed necessary, an integral part of his “energy strategy for the 21st century.”

Now, the president said, “I’m looking forward to Congress to take about $2 billion of these tax breaks out of the budget. … Taxpayers don’t need to be paying for certain of these expenses on behalf of the energy companies.”

The Republican-led Congress, which also just last year thought the taxpayers really did need to be paying for these expenses, seems inclined to repeal all or part of the $2.7 billion in tax breaks to oil and gas companies, along with several hundred million dollars to subsidize drilling research.

Now that the big energy companies are racking up record profits _ and, really, high crude oil prices aside, what did the lawmakers think would happen? _ Congress is getting all huffy. The Senate Finance Committee has asked to see the tax returns of the 15 largest oil and gas companies. Isn’t that something lawmakers might have wanted to do before throwing a whole bunch of goodies the companies’ way?

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at) Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,