Joe Barton says it is “a tragedy of the first proportion” that BP agreed to Obama’s request to set up a $20 billion fund to compensate Americans — and then he apologizes to BP CEO Hayward!
UPDATE: The Daily News notes, “Before his election to Congress, Barton was an executive with ARCO, which was later acquired by BP.” More updates below, including the threat by GOP leadership that made Barton retract the apology.
At first it was only fringe libertarians who defended BP (see Rand Paul calls White House pressure on BP “un-American”). But the dam broke yesterday when the mainstream conservatives of the Republican Study Committee labeled the $20 billion BP escrow account for victims of the tragedy a “Chicago-style political shakedown.”
Today, in a must-see video from the House hearing, JoeGlobal Warming ‘Is A Net Benefit To Mankind’ Barton (R-TX) called the fund a “tragedy” and then apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward:
BARTON: I’m speaking totally for myself, I’m not speaking for the Republican Party, I’m not speaking for anybody in the House of Representatives but myself. But 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 “” with the Attorney General of the United States who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the interests of the American people “” participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that is unprecedented in our nation’s history, that’s got no legal standing, which I think sets a terrible precedent for the future.
If I called you into my office, and I had the subcommittee chairman Mr. Stupak with me, who was legitimately conducting an oversight investigation on your company, and said if you put so many millions of dollars in a project in my congressional district, I could go to jail and should go to jail. Now, there is no question that British Petroleum owns this lease, that BP made decisions that objective people think compromise safety. There is no question that BP is liable for the damages. But we have a due process system where we go through hearings, in some cases court cases, litigation and determine what those damages are and when those damages should be paid.
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.
So Barton thinks litigation is the best way for determining “when those damages should be paid.” CP has already examined at length what happens when we go that path:
“The Exxon Valdez spill was in 1989, they still, 21 years later, have not paid the [full] amount awarded in court (a mere $500 million) to those affected and in fact over 8000 people have died while waiting for compensation. Exxon is still in appeals court TODAY. Why would BP act differently?“
The White House press office released this statement in response:
“What is shameful is that Joe Barton seems to have more concern for big corporations that caused this disaster than the fishermen, small business owners and communities whose lives have been devastated by the destruction. Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a ‘tragedy’, but most Americans know that the real tragedy is what the men and women of the Gulf Coast are going through right now. Members from both parties should repudiate his comments.”
Brad Johnson at TP notes:
The “slush fund” will not be managed by the federal government or BP, but an independent third party, funded over four years with a small fraction of BP’s annual revenues. Barton has taken $1.4 million from the oil and gas industry, including $27,350 from BP. In Barton’s world, it seems that the small people have to pay for their mistakes, but companies don’t.
Who else thinks the escrow account is a bad idea?
- Bachmann Fears Obama Using BP Escrow Fund as a ‘Permanent ATM Card.’ The Hill: “Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) on Wednesday warned the Obama administration against using oil giant BP as a ‘permanent ATM card’ and more broadly alleged there are increasing federal efforts to ‘take over private industry.’ The comments by Bachmann – a popular figure among conservative Tea Party activists – followed BP’s agreement under White House pressure to place $20 billion into a new escrow fund for damage claims from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.”
- Dirty energy lobbyist-turned-Governor Barbour is concerned that escrow account will cut into BP’s profits: “It bothers me”
TP now reports that at least one senior Republican is distancing himself from Barton: Boehner refuses to endorse Barton’s claim that BP’s escrow fund is a ‘shakedown.’ But TP adds:
Asked by CNN if he agreed with Barton, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) spoke favorably of the escrow fund, but said “the appearance of having the attorney general across the table, I’ll admit, that is troublesome.” “I don’t know if I would be quite as strong as Mr. Barton, but I agree with him that it was unseemly to have the attorney general, perhaps holding criminal papers in his hand, asking them to sign on the line,” said Burgess.
UPDATE: Politico reports some (political) sanity remains in the party:
Republicans, particularly Gulf state lawmakers, are furious at Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and may ask him to cede his job as top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the wake of his apology to BP Thursday.
“People are calling for his head,” said a GOP member of the committee.
UPDATE: Politico reports, “Joe Barton retracts apology to BP.”
UPDATE: CNN Steve Brusk tweets senior GOP was in panic mode:
Producer Deirdre Walsh reports Barton was told at mtg with Boehner and Cantor “apologize immediately” or lose position immediately