The ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee apologized to BP for what he called the “White House shakedown!” Representative Joe Barton from Texas, the man who would be in charge of the Energy and Commerce Committee if Republicans were in control of the House of Representatives, told BP officials that he was “ashamed” of the “shakedown” from the President.  The White House had just negotiated a legal and financial framework for BP to compensate the Gulf coast states and peoples for the biggest environmental disaster in our history. The negotiations included a fund of $20 billion that would be managed by a specially appointed overseer controlled by neither BP nor the White House.

Before this legal arrangement was negotiated, BP was legally liable for no more than $75 million dollars, a small amount that would not even cover cleaning the wildlife that survived swimming in the muck. At least BP was willing to step up to the plate and take financial responsibility for the awful mess created by the failed blowout preventer. Otherwise, the US taxpayer would be on the hook for such costs.

Rep. Barton’s remarks, which were preplanned and deliberate, make you wonder what actions he would have taken had he been in charge of the committee. This guy is no Republican backbencher; he is one of the power brokers, so his comments cannot be dismissed as the rantings of a fringe member.

To his credit, John Boehner, the House minority leader, immediately recognized that he had to contain this contagion lest the general public think Burton was speaking for the Republican Party and reflecting their views about the Gulf oil spill. It remains likely that Barton will lose his seniority on the committee and rightly so.

We are all affected by the oil spill whether we know it or not. One of our natural resources is being ruined – for us and for future generations. As has been pointed out with the Exxon Valdez disaster, you can still dig six inches on the shore and strike oil. But what makes Barton’s comments even more egregious is that the entire coastline and states hit by the disaster are Red states.  It is like a mother abandoning her children. What ideological purity was he spouting when protecting the financial interests of this country and those states is considered a “shakedown?”

I suspect Barton is preparing to move out of the country, that is, if he actually meant what he said. Just so you can understand the importance of what he said, let me quote him: “I do not want to live in a country where anytime a citizen or corporation that 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.” That was his second apology to BP executives that morning. His second apology that they would be held responsible to pay for their mess, not the US taxpayer. His second apology that Obama will not bail them out at taxpayer expense.  The second apology that the cleanup costs will not add to our national debt.

It is instructive to know that he received more than $1.5 million dollars from the oil and gas industry in political contributions. Is that what swayed his remarks? And to think that he, or someone who thinks like him, could be one election away from formulating the government’s response to future disasters. In this case, Barton has let us know his position. US taxpayers, you and me, would be held accountable for the damages and whatever company reeked disaster would be relieved of responsibility.

I can only think that this philosophy, or something similar, must be behind the resistance to the individual mandate for health insurance. Rather than require that every individual take responsibility for their health care, they want the US taxpayer to continue to pay for those people who visit the ER without insurance or assets. This is called the free-rider effect and in the early 1990’s Republicans proposed the individual mandate as a means of eliminating it. When Republicans proposed this mandate, it was not a Constitutional issue. This happened only when the Democrats proposed it. Such is politics.

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Jim Fitzgerald

Jim Fitzgerald

A clinically trained psychologist, Jim had a private practice in Cobb County for almost 30 years. For the last ten years he has been a Professor of Psychology at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT, but lives in the North Georgia Mountains.