Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is continuing on his charge to end government subsidies for large oil companies. Now the New Jersey Democrat says his party will “insist” that ending oil industry tax breaks be part of any deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Speaking on "The Rachael Maddow Show" on MSNBC, Menendez said, “I'm convinced we're going to do this, because whether this is done through my legislation or whether this is done as part of any debt-ceiling vote — which we’ll insist on — or whether it’s done as part of any budget vote, we are going to eliminate these subsidies.”

Menendez’s quest to end the subsidies has gained steam over the last few days in a battle of words against the CEOs of the so-called “Big Five” oil companies. The battle has gotten increasingly personal.

On Wednesday, ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva said that any attempts to remove the oil subsidies to the industry would be “un-American.” On Thursday, when the CEOs were called before the Senate Finance Committee for what turned into a contentious morning, Menendez and New York Sen. Charles Schumer demanded an apology from Mulva. “The bottom line is you're unwilling to apologize for your company's statement, so I will continue to take offense to it,” said Menendez.

Menendez is the sponsor of a bill that calls for the elimination of the subsidies. He is planning to introduce the bill sometime in the next two weeks. The bill will not get the 60 votes needed to escape a filibuster, so Menendez will have to make multiple attempts to get any traction for the bill. His comments on Maddow’s show reveal that he is in this fight for the long hall — a strategy that may pay off.

By vowing to insert the subsidy repeal into the debt ceiling debate, Menendez may be able to put subsidy defenders in a difficult place. For one thing, the debt ceiling debate is expected to take place late in the summer, when high gas prices may be taking a significant toll on the American economy. Secondly, subsidies to the oil companies are already unpopular, according to recent polls, and it’s unlikely they will gain popularity if gas prices are closer to $5 than $4. And for members of the GOP who are arguing that we need to greatly reduce our expenditures as part of the debt ceiling debate, defending $4.4 billion in handouts to five companies that made more than $31 billion during the first quarter of 2011 will be a tough sell.


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