One would hope Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican congressman from Texas, was an outlier last week when he spoke about a $20 billion fund set up by BP at the president’s behest to compensate those affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill:
He apologized. Not to the millions on the Gulf coast whose lives are forever altered, but to a top BP executive. He also said:
“I think it’s a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown.”
Why might someone say this? As the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Barton receives hefty campaign contributions from energy firms. But BP gave more money to Obama than any other federal candidate.
As would be expected when someone makes such a colossally out-of-touch remark, politicians from both major parties rushed to condemn his statement.
What got less attention was a press release from the Republican Study Committee, consisting of more than 100 congressional Republicans, including the Northwest’s own Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington’s 5th District.
Headlined “Chicago-style Shakedown Politics” the press release attempted to both insist BP pay for the damage the company has done while also condemning President Barack Obama for taking actions to actually force them to pay up.
This statement certainly does not reflect the anger directed at the British oil giant from across the American political spectrum. Hopefully it’s not a preview of what a GOP-controlled Congress might look like.
It’s hard to contemplate from the photos on the news how intensely personal the oil spill is to those making a living or just plain enjoying the Gulf coast. Imagine oil soiling Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach; the crabs that hard-working Oregonians catch for a living coming ashore poisoned and slimed.
Now imagine it will never be the same in your lifetime.
This is the harsh reality in the Gulf states of Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, and is likely coming soon to Mississippi.
One hopes these politicians were merely trying to get in a dig at Obama. And as we’re seeing with the cap-and-trade bill, taking advantage of tragedy is a bi-partisan tendency.
As cynical as that sounds, the alternative is that a sizable percentage of congressional Republicans value CEOs over shrimpers, or believe multi-national corporations deserve more sympathy than Ma and Pa on the shore.
We’re positive most rank-and-file conservatives don’t feel this way. After all, responsibility is a cornerstone of the philosophy.
But, considering Republicans have a good chance to take back the U.S. House this fall, it would be nice to hear the movement’s leaders say so.