So now it's a 'shakedown'


When word got around yesterday afternoon that BP had indeed agreed to establish a $20-billion escrow redemption fund, I knew it was only a matter of hours before Obama's critics jerked their knees anew, and declared that the president (whom they had previously condemned for not being tough enough during the oil spill crisis) was now being too tough, especially in his attitude toward poor old BP.

So I started the countdown. Three, two, one...sure enough, there it was: an email blast, late in the day, from the House conservatives who call themselves the Republican Study Committee. Who better to defend the worst environmental despoilers in the nation's history, and paint BP as the victim of presidential thuggery?

From the email: "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. These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this administration's drive for greater power and control. It is the same mentality that believes an economic crisis or an environmental disaster is the best opportunity to pursue a failed liberal agenda. The American people know much better." (Actually, every poll indicates that "the American people" are with Obama on this one. The latest Gallup poll reported that 71 percent of Americans want him to get tougher with BP; the new CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll, released today, says that 67 percent want him to get tougher.)

Michelle Bachmann naturally chimed in as well late yesterday, declaring: "We don't think it's a good idea for the federal government to see private industry as essentially a piggy bank for the federal government." (A day earlier, the congresswoman had denounced the BP escrow idea as "a redistribution-of-wealth fund.") Also late yesterday, the right-wing Coral Ridge Ministries declared in an email that Obama's push for the BP escrow fund was tantamount to - hold your breath - "socialism," and, indeed, "His harsh diktat sounds more like Hugo Chavez than Thomas Jefferson."

This morning, meanwhile, Texas GOP congressman Joe Barton took it upon himself to apologize to BP CEO Tony Hayward. (House Republican leader John Boehner quickly distanced himself from Barton's obsequious lament.) Addressing the beleaguered oil executive, who sat at the witness table in preparation for his well-deserved flogging, Barton said: "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."

I'm confused. Didn't the Republicans complain, during the Wall Street crisis, that the taxpayer was being unfairly soaked, that the taxpayer shouldn't have to pick up the tab for the private sector's egregious abuses? So why are these conservatives now complaining about an escrow account that will put BP on the hook for its abuses - while keeping the taxpayer free and clear? Isn't that what they wanted before?

It takes a courageous politician to stick up for BP these days, but Mississippi Gov. (an ex-GOP national chairman) Haley Barbour is just the guy. On Fox News the other night, he fretted that a BP escrow fund might seriously hurt BP's cash flow: "I do worry that this idea of making them make a huge escrow fund is going to make it less likely that they’ll pay for everything. They need their capital to drill wells. They need their capital to produce income." Who says that conservatives aren't bleeding hearts, at least when profit margins are affected?

But the big questions: Why do so many Republicans seem uncomfortable with the concept of holding BP fully accountable for the damage wrought on land and sea? Would they prefer that the Gulf Coast taxpayer-victims bail out a company that's too big to fail?  

The sole proprietor of this blog is on the road for the month of June. Virtually all June posts will be briefer than the norm, except on the rare weekdays when posts won't show up at all. Apologies in advance for this disturbance in the force. The standard verbosity will return on Monday, June 28.