Friday, June 18, 2010

Rep. Barton May Be Fall Guy For Republican "Shakedown" Comments

Jun 17: Representative Joe Barton (R-TX), former Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and now Ranking Member, could be stripped of his powerful Committee assignments for his widely publicized public apology to BP and his comments about being "ashamed" of the $20 billion oil spill claims fund agreement which the White House negotiated with BP. In his opening statement at the Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing with BP CEO Tony Hayward, Barton apologized to BP and called the agreement a "shakedown."
    Rep. Barton issued a release with his original complete statement [now withdrawn] and said, "Now I'm going to speak totally for myself. I'm not speaking for the Republican party, I'm not speaking for anyone in the House of Representatives but myself -- I'm ashamed at what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy in 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. 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, participated in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund. That's unprecedented in our nation's history, has no legal standing and which sets, I think, a terrible precedent for the future. . ."
    House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republican leaders Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Mike Pence (R-IN), immediately issued a statement responding directly to Barton's comments. They said, "The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation's largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority. Congressman Barton's statements this morning were wrong. BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose. The families and businesspeople in the Gulf region want leadership, accountability and action from BP and the Administration. It is unacceptable that, 59  days after this crisis began, no solution is forthcoming. Simply put, the American people want all of our resources, time and focus to be directed toward stopping the spill and cleaning up the mess."
    Rep. Barton, widely regarded as the House Republican point-man on energy and environmental issues, returned to the hearing in the afternoon and issued a statement retract his apology and withdrawing his previous statement and issuing a replacement statement saying, "I apologize for using the term 'shakedown' with regard to yesterday's actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning, and I retract my apology to BP. As I told my colleagues yesterday and said again this morning, BP should bear the full financial responsibility for the accident on their lease in the Gulf of Mexico. BP should fully compensate those families and businesses that have been hurt by this accident. BP and the federal government need to stop the leak, clean up the damage, and take whatever steps necessary to prevent a similar accident in the future. I regret the impact that my statement this morning implied that BP should not pay for the consequences of their decisions and actions in this incident."
    Democrats reacted immediately to Barton's comments. In a blog posting, the White House indicated, "some in Congress have attacked this common sense step, including Congressman Joe Barton who called the agreement 'shameful' and a 'tragedy,' and apologized to BP for it during a Congressional hearing today." White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded, 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. . ."
    Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), issued a statement saying, "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. 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?"
    While Rep. Barton said he was only speaking for himself, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pointed out in a blog posting that Representative Tom Price (R-GA), Chairman of the Republican Study Committee (Representing over 100 Republicans in the House) said, "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."
    Pelosi reported that, "Gulf Coast citizens literally applauded this announcement and a new CNN poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans -- 82 percent -- support the BP disaster compensation fund."
    In the June 16 release from the Republican Study Committee entitled, "Chicago-Style Political Shakedown," responding to the BP agreement, Rep. Price said further, ". . .in an administration that appears not to respect fundamental American principles, it is important to note that there is no legal authority for the President to compel a private company to set up or contribute to an escrow account. 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.  It is the same mentality that believes an economic crisis or an environmental disaster is the best opportunity to pursue a failed liberal agenda. The American people know much better."

    Access the statement from House Republican leaders (click here). Access the replacement statement from Rep. Barton (click here). Access the White House blog post and comments (click here). Access the blog posting from Speaker Pelosi (click here). Access the release from Rep. Price (click here). Access the Republican Study Committee website for a list of members (click here).