Last night, the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest caucus of Republican House members, fired off a statement declaring that the $20 billion dollar negotiated by BP and the Obama administration for victims of the oil catastrophe in the gulf is a “Chicago-Style Political Shakedown.” Echoing this sentiment, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) told BP executives that he is “sorry” for Obama’s “shakedown” of their company.
This morning, ThinkProgress traveled to Capitol Hill to interview lawmakers about the escrow fund. Several members of Congress, like Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), agreed with the RSC’s criticism of the fund. Even though Fleming’s home state of Louisiana has been devastated by BP’s spill, Fleming attacked the administration for not trusting BP and for daring to “take control of all the money from BP.” Asked about Barton’s apology to BP, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said any lawmaker has a right to “do what they want”:
TP: He announced the $20 billion dollar escrow fund, funded by BP, to compensate some of the victims of this catastrophe. The Republican Study Committee put out a press release last night saying it’s a Chicago style power grab, do you agree with that sentiment?
FLEMING: I do because what we have seen from this administration is whenever something like this happens — look at automotive industry, financial industry — what they do is take control of dollars then they begin to disperse them along political agendas. And we’ve seen this happen before, and it looks like its the development here. BP has said, time and time again, that they will process all legitimate claims, we have no reason to believe they won’t. Why does the administration feel like it’s got to take control of all the money from BP?
TP: So Congressman, the Republican Study Committee last night said that the $20 billion dollar escrow fund is just another Chicago style politics kind of power grab. Do you agree with that, do you think that’s a fair characterization?
JORDAN: I’m, look, I’m always worried about this unprecedented involvement by the government in the private sector and look, BP obviously made some mistakes, but do we really believe the Federal government is going to do a better job?
TP: What do you think about Joe Barton in the hearing this morning, he said ‘I apologize’ to the BP executives for the escrow fund, saying again it’s a shakedown […] Do you have any kind of reaction to a member of Congress apologizing to BP executives?
NUNES: Look, every member of Congress represents seven, eight hundred thousand people and they can do what they want.
The apology from Barton does not appear to be a “gaffe” — rather, it seems like a genuine belief held by conservatives and much of the Republican Party that no matter the crime committed by BP or another major corporation, any effort to conduct oversight for the victims is somehow a government “shakedown.” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) made a similar argument as Fleming, explaining that the escrow fund for BP’s victims is just another Obama effort to “redistribute the wealth.” As Steve Benen notes, Dick Armey, Rand Paul (R-KY), Sharron Angle (R-NV), Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) and the Heritage Foundation have all attacked Obama for daring to interfere with “private businesses” even during one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in modern America.
This knee-jerk defense of big business isn’t confined to BP or the oil spill disaster. During the health reform debate, conservative lawmakers, like Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), quickly came to the defense of health insurance companies fighting against reform.