By Tuesday, it will have been five days since Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, got rapped on the knuckles by the House Republican leadership for the sin of repeating a Republican talking point at an inopportune time.
That talking point, you’ll recall, is that BP is the victim of a “$20 billion shakedown” by the Obama administration, done when BP executives went to the White House and agreed to create a $20 billion escrow fund to pay for the cleanup of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and to make whole the economic victims of that disaster. Barton apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for having to be subjected to that “shakedown” when Hayward appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on June 17. Later, a chastened Barton said he apologized for using the term “shakedown” and for any “misconstruction” of his comments.
The organization that was the source that talking point, however, has yet to apologize. That would be the Republican Study Committee, which represents 114 of the 178 Republicans in the House, including Barton and three of the top four members of the Republican leadership. If anyone should be apologizing, it should be each of the 114 Republicans for whom the archconservative Republican Study Committee serves as a kind of ideological church.
So send a message right now to Republican Study Commission chairman Rep. Tom Price, asking him and the other 113 members in the RSC to apologize for their “shakedown” smear.
Price, R-Ga., issued a statement on June 16 under the RSC’s banner that 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.“
There is no distance between the substance of what Barton said and what Price released the day before. Both statements questioned the legality of the president of the United States sitting with the CEO of a company responsible for the greatest ecological disaster in the nation’s history and coming to an agreement on how to make good on the company’s promise to clean up the mess it created. Barton’s comments also contained allusions to Price’s assertion that the escrow fund was part of “a politicization of our economy” by an administration “that appears not to respect fundamental American principles.”
The only significant difference between the two statements is the delivery, with Price’s online blast not creating much of a mainstream media ripple while Barton’s repetition in front of a row of TV cameras caused dropped jaws followed rapidly by fierce backlash.
That helps explain that even Barton’s apology was not for the substance of the “shakedown” statement but for what Barton said was the “misconstruction” that he was advocating BP be let off the hook for paying for the ecological and economic damage it created. And, it is true that even Barton’s I’m-sorry-I-got-caught statement tracks the opening words of Price’s RSC statement: “We all agree that BP should be held fully responsible for its complicity in the oil tragedy in the Gulf.”
But the majority of the House Republicans who belong to the Republican Study Committee and advance its agenda of rigid conservatism shouldn’t be allowed to claim that all we saw last week was a single case of foot-in-mouth disease. Unless we hear an apology from Price and the other RSC members, we have to assume that the majority of House Republicans still believe the $20 billion escrow commitment from BP is an illegal “shakedown” by the Obama administration, notwithstanding Hayward’s statements to the contrary.
That would be true to form for the conservatives in the RSC and for their Senate counterparts. These same conservatives opposed lifting the cap that limits BP’s liability to $75 million. They fought tough safety regulations on oil drilling and let BP and the other oil giants get away with submitting cookie-cutter safety plans that referenced non-existent walruses and listed a dead scientist as a contact. And they are obstructing President Obama’s effort to move us away from relying on dangerous deep-water drilling for our energy needs.
Price and the members of the RSC need to be told to set aside the name-calling to fire up the right-wing base, only to be retracted when the name-calling backfires. Apologize for the “shakedown” smear. And let’s get on with the cleanup and a new energy future.