One of the sad realities of politics is that telling an easily demagogued truth can often get you in trouble, not because of what you said, but because of how it will be falsely portrayed. Joe Barton is getting a taste of that, right now:
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) broke with a top Republican on Thursday who suggested BP had suffered a “shakedown” by being forced to set up a $20 billion fund to pay out damages.
Boehner distanced himself from remarks by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) lamenting the BP fund, with the GOP leader expressing thanks for the fund.
“They’ve agreed to put this $20 billion dollars in escrow,” Boehner said during an appearance on Fox News. “I don’t know what context Mr. Barton was making that remark, but,I’m glad BP has accepted responsibility for their actions.”
Barton, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during opening statements at a hearing in which BP CEO Tony Hayward will testify that President Barack Obama and his administration had created a “slush fund” in the $20 billion fund.
“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,” Barton said.
It’s great that there’s a $20 billion fund to pay off damages related to this oil spill. There are a lot of people who’ve been hurt by it. Fishermen, the tourism industry — and the massive clean up efforts are going to go on for years. Heck, there’s even a small upside to this for BP: they now have a firm number that they can point to when people ask how much this is going to hurt the company.
That being said, the way Obama handled this came across as lawless, creepy, and dictatorial.
Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party.
First of all, it’s worth noting that Obama lied through his teeth about having the fund “administered by an independent, third party.” The government will be controlling the fund.
But, this is not a statement that should have ever come out of the mouth of an American President.
I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required…
What is this, Cuba? Venezuela? I thought we had laws in this country? Since when does the President of the United States arbitrarily get to decide how much money a privately owned company has to give the government and then tell it there is no choice other than to do it? What happens if BP wouldn’t go along? Would the CEO have woken up with a horse’s head in his bed? Would Obama have seized his company, Hugo Chavez style?
Now, you may say, “Well, they screwed up big time. They should be paying 20 billion dollars!”
I wouldn’t disagree with that.
However, the process matters. It’s the process that separates us from banana republics and dictatorships. If we say it’s okay for the President of the United States to go above the law because everyone is mad at BP right now, what do we say when he arbitrarily targets another company in the name of “social justice” or “global warming?”
This is not a man who respects democracy and even liberals should be alarmed about that.
Update #1: Joe Barton, after undoubtedly being tongue lashed behind closed doors for giving the Dems some ammo, has now reversed himself.
“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.”
Remember what I said at the start of the post about “telling an easily demagogued truth?” Politically, this probably makes sense.
PS: Let me also add that in all fairnes,s “shakedown” may not have been the best term. I think, “make him an offer he can’t refuse” fits the situation a little better.