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Backing Polluters: Republicans Rush to Defend BP

June 17, 2010

Over just the past few months, Republicans on Capitol Hill have defended predatory health insurers, corrupt Wall Street bankers and criminal coal mining companies. Now with word that President Obama has secured a $20 billion, independently administered escrow fund from BP to help pay for its devastating oil spill in the Gulf, leading lights of the GOP are rushing to protect the company from "being fleeced" and a "shakedown."
One day after BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg apologized to the "small people," Texas Republican Joe Barton apologized to the big ones. As BP CEO Tony Hayward prepared to offer his own contrition to a House committee hearing Thursday, Barton insisted it was Hayward who was owed an apology:

"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown...
So I'm only speaking for myself, I'm not speaking for anybody else, but I apologize, I do not want to live in a country where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure that is again in my words amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize."

With the spirited defense of the assassin of the Gulf Coast, Barton joined Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. Bachmann began circling the Republican wagons around BP just after the White House meeting Wednesday, calling the escrow fund a "redistribution of wealth fund." She warned Hayward that he was being played for a sucker by President Obama. As David Weigel reported:

"They have to lift the liability cap," said Bachmann. "But if I was the head of BP, I would let the signal get out there -- 'We're not going to be chumps, and we're not going to be fleeced.' And they shouldn't be. They shouldn't have to be fleeced and make chumps to have to pay for perpetual unemployment and all the rest -- they've got to be legitimate claims.
"The other thing we have to remember is that Obama loves to make evil whatever company it is that he wants to get more power from. He makes them evil, and what we've got to ask ourselves is: Do we really want to be paying $9 for a gallon of gas? Because that could be the final result of this."

Later in the day, Bachmann during an typically uncontested interview with CNN's John King compared the $20 billion paid by BP to government bailouts of AIG, GM and Chrysler. Despite following the successful model of the independent 9/11 victims fund (also administered by Ken Feinberg), Bachmann denounced what she deemed a government takeover:

"This is an appointee from the Obama administration who will be doing the payouts. And it's the pay czar dealing with the administration. So this is very different from what we've done in the past. And while it's important that all the claims get paid, let's just make sure that this isn't a permanent ATM card...
But today it seems like the automatic effort from the government is let's have the federal government take over private industry. We don't want that to be the automatic response of government because we're a free market economy."

Nearer to the scene of the crime, former oil lobbyist and RNC chairman turned Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour also leaped to BP's defense. Previously, Barbour declared "I'm not going to complain" about BP, warned "a bunch of liberal elites were hoping this would be the Three Mile Island of offshore drilling' and compared being smothered in oil to being covered in toothpaste. Yesterday, Barbour fretted about the company whose 2010 profits alone are forecast to reach $20 billion:

"I do worry that this idea of making them make a huge escrow fund is going to make it less likely that they'll pay for everything. They need their capital to drill wells. They need their capital to produce income... But this escrow bothers me that it's going to make them less able to pay us what they owe us. And that concerns me."

Of course, as Keith Olbermann among others pointed out last night, the tears Republicans shed for BP are unbecoming to American voters. (Minority Leader John Boehner tried to distance himself from Barton's "shakedown" comment.) But for their part, GOP conservatives appear to be doubling down on portraying BP as a victim of a "Chicago-style political shakedown". The Republican Study Committee led by Georgia's Tom Price issued a statement declaring:

"BP's reported willingness to go along with the White House's new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics. These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration's drive for greater power and control."

That reading will come as a surprise to embatled Gulf Coast residents now awash in BP's oil.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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