Republicans on Thursday once again blocked the Senate from voting on separate bills designed to hold energy giant BP accountable for the monster oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The action in the Senate came on the same day a senior House Republican also came under fire for apologizing to the fourth-largest corporation on the planet for the federal government’s efforts to force it to take responsibility for disaster, which continues to drain oil into the waters off the Louisiana coast two months after the initial explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sought to overcome what’s been a weeks-long filibuster of his Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act, once again casting the issue in a single question: “Whose side are you on?”
The Senate GOP repeatedly has stepped in the way of a vote on the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act, which would raise the cap on liabilities for damages that BP and other oil producers would have to pay, from the current $75 million that was set two decades ago, up to $10 billion.
Separately, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) rose on the Senate floor to have a vote taken on her legislation to give subpoena power to the White House commission that is investigating the BP disaster.
When she introduced her bill earlier this month, Shaheen noted that Congress previously granted subpoena power to presidential commissions investigating national crises, including the Warren Commission and the Three Mile Island Commission.
Shaheen and the other Senate Democrats who support subpoena power believe that the BP Commission must have that power to ensure access to all the evidence it needs to undertake a complete investigation on the causes of the spill and make meaningful recommendations on how to prevent similar disasters.
President Obama created the commission, formally known as the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, by executive order. Obama also named members to the panel. Bob Graham, the former Democratic senator from Florida and Bill Reilly, an ex-administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency as co-chairs of the commission.
“BP and the other companies responsible for this devastating oil spill must not be allowed to stonewall the American people,” says Shaheen. “Subpoena power is absolutely necessary to make sure that all responsible parties provide us with the information and evidence we need in order to prevent an economic and environmental disaster of this magnitude from ever happening again.”
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) also calls subpoena power essential for the commission.
“As someone who has led investigations of everything from money laundering to the fate of American POW’s missing in action, I can tell you that subpoena power is essential. Without it, a commission is just window dressing,” he says.
But Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, blocked Shaheen’s bill, just as he filibustered the Menendez measure.
As Inhofe protected Big Oil in the Senate, over on the other side of Capitol Hill, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward, saying the successful efforts of the White House to secure from the oil company a $20 billion account to begin to cover spill-related damages a “shakedown.”
Vice President Joe Biden pounced on Barton’s comments, calling them “incredibly out of touch.”
Barton is a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“It takes an appalling amount of chutzpah for Congressman Barton to apologize to the BP CEO this morning about Democrats’ efforts to hold BP accountable,” Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), says in a statement released Thursday. “Where is his apology for the families of the 11 men who lost their lives and the industries along the Gulf that have been devastated because of this disaster? Where is his sympathy for the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico that will be damaged for generations because of BP’s negligence? And shouldn’t he be apologizing to the people of the Gulf Coast for decades of Republican policies that ignored oversight and accountability for the oil industry?
“Republicans should get their priorities straight: are they going to keep protecting and apologizing for Big Oil or will they finally stand up for families and businesses whose lives have been upended by the BP oil spill?” Manley asks.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.