Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said Thursday she cannot support calls to end tax breaks for oil companies because she fears that would lead to higher gas prices.
"I've never seen an instance where raising taxes has resulted in lower prices at the pump," Noem said on a conference call with reporters. "My concern is that they would pass that through onto consumers. To do that at a time when we have that volatility would be very worrisome to me."
Senate Democrats, including South Dakota's Tim Johnson, have called for an end to the more than $4 billion in annual tax breaks enjoyed by oil companies.
When asked whether the Democrats' proposal might help reduce the federal deficit, a goal championed by Noem and other Republicans, she said higher gas prices are an overriding concern.
"Our focus needs to be on making sure consumers have the lowest prices at the pump," she said. "It's extremely important that we spend our dollars wisely. Everywhere I go in South Dakota, people are talking to me about gas prices."
A long-range energy plan would be more important, she said. "We have seen a huge lack of an energy plan. I have been a big proponent of the all-of-the-above energy plan, an American energy plan."
Noem voted for a bill that would reverse decisions by the Obama administration to cancel or delay offshore oildrilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Virginia.
Noem said she isn't convinced that market manipulation is a factor in high gas prices.
"I haven't seen any evidence that would point to that. It is certainly imperative that everything be done on the upand-up, especially when consumers are suffering with these high prices at the pump," she said. "We want to make sure there wasn't something being done that was against the law."
Working on Essential
Noem said that before her fellow House Republicans voted for a budget-cutting plan that would end subsidies to rural airports, she spoke against the measure.
After that, she was put on a working group that will examine the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes air travel at Huron and Watertown.
"I was put on a working group that will look at EAS and make it more accountable with those dollars, at the same time recognizing the benefits it can bring," Noem said. "I know there's a lot of success stories out there. We'll certainly be talking to a lot of people in South Dakota as we go forward to see what kind of suggestions they may have."
Backs Medicaid cuts
Noem said she supports a budget proposal from House Republican Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, that would fundamentally change Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for the poor.
A recent report that found South Dakota Medicaid recipients would experience a 55 percent drop in coverage -- the second highest in the nation -- doesn't dissuade her, she said.
"I certainly support that budget. We are facing a very predictable financial crisis," she said while acknowledging cuts could be dramatic. "That is a very concerning number, especially considering we have a lot of people in South Dakota struggling right now."
Noem said the Ryan plan would give states more flexibility in administering the Medicaid program and would include indexes for population growth and inflation. "Those are key components," she said. "As we go forward, we will be sure we have a plan in place that's good for taxpayers" but also provides health coverage for the poor.
Without such budget fixes, Noem said, "Our children will be paying twice the taxes we are."
Noem said Congress and the Obama administration have plenty of time to work out a deal on raising the nation's debt ceiling before an August deadline, when the United States could face default on its debts. She said she is awaiting a proposal from the White House.
"This is President Obama asking to raise the debt ceiling. I would expect him to have a plan and to lead on this issue," Noem said. "We have plenty of time ... to address this."
Noem indicated that, like many other Republicans, she is interested in twinning the raising of the debt ceiling with spending cuts.
"I'm going to look for real reforms," she said. "I came to Washington to be more responsible with taxpayer dollars."