At least one member of Congress, Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican and former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is sympathetic to BP. Actually, he’s rather mad at President Obama and Congress on BP’s behalf. From his opening statement at today’s hearing:
I’m speaking now 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’s unprecedented in our nation’s history, that’s got no legal standing, and which sets, I think, 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. There is no question that British Petroleum — that B.P. — I’m sorry. It’s not British Petroleum anymore — that B.P. made decisions that objective people think compromise safety. There is no question that B.P. 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 any time 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.
The White House responds. From Robert Gibbs:
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.