From Joel Connelly at seattlepi:
As slick attacks on President Obama’s oil spill leadership spread across conservative media — and mainstream Washington, D.C. pundits display their disconnect with America — a defining question gets overlooked.
Do our elected officials’ sympathies lie with what BP’s chairman called the “small people,” those with livelihoods put at jeopardy, or with Big Oil?
(Click on the image for a larger version and then on that for an even bigger one)
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, was delivering his “shakedown” apology to BP at last Thursday’s hearing when a four year-old memory flooded to mind: This is the guy who tried to shake loose Puget Sound refineries from tanker size and transportation safety regulations.
As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Barton was crafting legislation designed to cut down the regulatory hoops governing the siting of new oil refineries. Hurricane Katrina was the given reason, Big Oil was the chosen beneficiary.
[W]e should ask what manner of folks will be running Congress if control flips to Republicans in the November election.
Joe Barton is not alone in tossing bouquets and sympathy toward the corporation responsible for the worse pollution disaster in American history. Other examples:
–BP “shouldn’t have to be fleeced,” in the words of Rep. Michelle [sic] Bachmann, R-Minnesota, who described as “a redistribution of wealth fund” the $20 billion escrow account set up to pay cleanup costs and claims.
–“We can’t afford to demonize” BP, Sarah Palin declared on television last week as she upbraided President Obama for taking so long to meet with BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward. (Hayward has been exiled back to England.)
–President Obama “is directly engaged in extorting money” from BP, ex-House Speaker (and possible presidential candidate) Newt Gingrich charged, appearing on Fox News’ “Hannity.”
–The BP escrow account is an example of “Chicago-style shakedown politics” by President Obama, Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, charged in a statement.
After Republican House leaders beat his brains in, Barton apologized for his apology. Interestingly, however, House Republican leader John Boehner declared about 10 days ago that government and BP should share burdens of spill response, before hastily clarifying that cleaning up is the company’s responsibility.
Dating back more than a century, to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, “green” Republicans have done yeoman service for conservation and the environment. But they are now an endangered species.
By contrast, Joe Barton is responsible for legislative language that forced the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to speed up approval of drilling rigs. MMS was already more a lapdog than a watchdog.
The lethal disasters of 2010 — the Tesoro refinery explosion in Anacortes, the West Virginia mine blast, the Deepwater Horizon fiasco — demonstrate the need for rigorous regulation, and a necessary role for government.
Even as beaches and birds are fouled along the Gulf, however, blood runs thick among friends of BP. “They need their capital to drill wells: They need their capital to produce income,” Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, former Washington, D.C., lobbyist, said in criticizing the escrow fund.
If an anti-government tide washes over America this November, it will carry into Congress more Bartons, Boehners and Bachmanns. They’ll strip oversight agencies, let corporations write the rules, and usher in more bed sharing of regulators and industry than seen in the Colorado office of MMS.
Do we really want that for our country?
From Steve Benen at POLITICAL ANIMAL at Washington MONTHLY (June 17, 2010):
THE PARTY OF BP…. I haven’t seen much in the way of polling on this, but I’d hazard a guess that BP isn’t especially popular with Americans right now. The company’s horrific safety record, its willingness to cut corners, its repeated falsehoods about the scope of the ongoing disaster, and its efforts to downplay the significance of the crisis have, I suspect, made BP rather villainous in the eyes of the public.
Common sense suggests politicians, especially in a competitive election year, would go out of their way to look “tough” against BP. No one wants to side with the foreign company responsible for the worst environmental disaster in American history.
No one, that is, except a surprising number of leading Republicans.
GOP officials: Barton’s apology will likely be the most memorable moment of the dispute, but let’s not forget that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) slammed the escrow fund to help victims of the spill as “a redistribution-of-wealth fund” that could serve as a “gateway” for “more money to government.” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) blasted the White House for securing the funds for Gulf Coast businesses and families, condemning the success as a “Chicago-style political shakedown.” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) disapproves of the escrow fund, and has said he’s worried it will undermine BP profits too much. At one point, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) went so far as to suggest American taxpayers should help pay for the relief effort, though he later backpedaled.
GOP candidates: In Nevada, Senate candidate Sharron Angle has said the appropriate response to the disaster is further deregulation of the oil industry. In Kentucky, Senate candidate Rand Paul said it’s “un-American” for the president to criticize BP.
GOP allies: A variety of Republican media personalities — Limbaugh, Hannity, and Oliver North — all read from identical talking points, calling the independently-operated escrow account “a slush fund.” Dick Armey has blasted the fund, as has the Heritage Foundation.
What on earth is going on here?
[…]Republicans probably feel like they don’t have a choice, at least in a partisan sense. President Obama and Dems are going after BP — demanding the $20 billion, lifting the liability cap, proposing tax hikes and new safeguards — which means Republicans are necessarily inclined to move in the other direction. After all, whatever Democrats are for, Republicans are against, regardless or merit or circumstances.
The second [factor] is that BP is a giant, private oil company, and when it’s under fire, the Republicans’ knee-jerk response is to launch a defense. Even if BP is to blame — even if BP is criminally responsible — Republicans want to blame government, bureaucrats, and environmentalists. Holding a giant corporation accountable just makes the GOP uncomfortable.
In an election context, this has the potential to be incredibly toxic. Barton’s public apology to BP will be part of about a zillion campaign ads over the next several months, and Republicans have made a huge strategic error positioning themselves as the Party of BP.