To drive this rhetorical salvo home, a Republican senator rolled the videotape on footage of President Obama saying in a recent speech that as Brazil finds more and more offshore oil, the U.S. wants to step up and be Brazil's big buyer.

"The major integrated oil and gas companies may not be affected much, but they can rethink what they do domestically if the tax picture changes," Morningstar's Good said, and this was a point made by the Big Oil executives on Thursday morning repeatedly. The Morningstar analyst said, "Look at what's going on with all the big oil companies buying into the U.S. shale plays. They are still banking on that but this can change the cost dynamic. In future years Big Oil is more exposed to these domestic taxes given their investment in shale, so they are not overlooking the issue one bit," Good said.

While the focus on the Big Oil big five wouldn't hit the bottom lines of the smaller exploration and production companies, Morningstar's Good noted that the independents are "built to sell," and that a change in the cost dynamic of these operations with the elimination of tax breaks isn't immaterial in terms of their strategic plans.

The situation has also changed since the last time Big Oil was dragged in to defend its corporate tax treatment, noted Argus Research's Weiss. "It's come up repeatedly but never happened because of the fiscal position, and now with Congress needing to find ways to raise funds, picking on those with the deepest pockets feels like it has higher risk to me," the analyst said.

"If we are going to get serious about addressing our national debt, we can no longer afford to keep giving away taxpayers' money to the most profitable companies in the world. There are going to be some tough decisions when it comes to cutting back, but I hope we can agree that our government writing checks to oil and gas companies with tax dollars should be on the chopping block," Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) stated in a release introducing the legislation on Wednesday.

Indeed, at one point Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York demanded that Big Oil executives answer the tenuous-at-best "logical" question: "Should you get tax breaks or students receive financial aid....? Because that's the choice we have to make."

During the Senate hearing, Ron Wyden (D-OR) played videotape from a similar hearing in 2005 when oil had risen to $55 a barrel, and the Big Oil executives were asked if they needed government incentives. Every single Big Oil executive said 'no,' a statement that Senator Wyden made the Big Oil executives repeat on Thursday.

ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva suffered the most abuse for his company's Wednesday press release calling the tax proposals "un-American," but it was Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia who best reflected both sides of the debate. Rockefeller first threw a softball compliment to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for working with the Boy Scouts in West Virgina, but went on to say that Big Oil was anything but Boy Scout-like in its behavior.

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