Obama has made calls to end handouts to oil companies before, but never quite so vociferously:
"Let's put every single member of Congress on record: You can stand with oil companies or you can stand up for the American people," he said in a speech at Nashua Community College in New Hampshire. "It's outrageous. It's inexcusable. I'm asking Congress: Eliminate this oil industry giveaway right away."
Them's, as they say, fightin' words. Now, the president has called for killing tax breaks to some of the nation's most profitable industries rather regularly, actually—he's done so in each of his State of the Union Addresses, and in some speeches last year, when he was stumping in support of a short-lived effort by Democrats to roll back a chunk of oil industry handouts.
But the new, improved, and fierier rhetoric comes in response to the most recent spate of oh-so-predictable GOP attacks on his energy policies in the face of rising gas prices. The chattering classes have whipped themselves into a frenzy over the looming prospect of $5 gas, and headlines from Politico to the the NY Times (which offered up the totally objective story 'Rising Gas Prices Give G.O.P. Issue to Attack Obama') have basically been begging the Republican leadership to go on the attack.
Interestingly, however, so far, America's not buying it this time. Perhaps because of the rebounding economy, perhaps because of Obama's efforts to preemptively counter their attacks with common sense-filled energy speechifying, and perhaps (nay, almost certainly) because of my extremely insightful blog posts about what really determines the price of gas, polls show that Americans aren't really blaming Obama for the pain at the pump.
And the president seems to be seeking to take advantage of this fact by instead focusing on corporate wrongdoing with an Occupy-friendly message: When high gas prices are helping oil companies get even more obscenely rich, it's a good time to talk about ending their handouts from Uncle Sam. It's a popular message—nobody likes oil companies—and it may better speak to the current political climate than "let oil companies drill the hell out of everything".
It should also be noted that, while removing oil subsidies would be a really good thing, it's mostly a symbolic crusade—the $4 billion or so that would likely be up to get scraped away certainly wouldn't do much to impact the price of gas, and would hardly put a dent in Big Oil's bottom line. But it would be an inspiring step in the right direction, and could generate momentum behind the push to level the playing field for cleaner fuels and better transportation technologies.
So fight on, Obama—stick it to those oily fat cats (just don't actually call them that, because then they might get really sad and pout about how you're bad for business, even if you have let them drill more places than Bush).