WASHINGTON - JUNE 17: Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) questions BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward during a hearing of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on 'The Role Of BP In The Deepwater Horizon Explosion And Oil Spill' June 17, 2010 in Washington, DC. BP agreed yesterday to place $20 billion into an escrow account managed by a third party to pay out claims resulting from the oil spill and also said it will not pay out additional dividends to shareholders for the remainder of the year. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
During a congressional hearing yesterday with embattled BP CEO Tony Hayward, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) apologized to the oil executive for what he called a White House "shakedown" that led to the creation of a $20 billion escrow account that will go to compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill. The remarks set off a firestorm of criticism across the capital and the opinion pages, even as Barton backpeddled on his remarks under pressure from members of his own party. Did Barton miscalculate or were his remarks indicitive of a larger sentiment?
The White House attacked Barton’s statement, casting it as out of touch. “Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a ‘tragedy’, but most Americans know that the real tragedy is what the men and women of the Gulf Coast are going through right now. Members from both parties should repudiate his comments.”
The Wall Street Journal defended Barton’s characterization of the deal, but expressed concern about the escrow account deal might mean in the future. "Meanwhile, BP's agreement sets a terrible precedent for the economy and the rule of law, particularly for future industrial accidents or other corporate controversies that capture national outrage. The default position from now on in such cases will be for politicians to demand a similar "trust fund" that politicians or their designees will control."
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones thinks that this is a case where knee-jerk partisianship can be a boon to Democrats. “But as Dems push ever harder, the natural GOP instinct to (a) protect business and (b) instinctively oppose everything Democrats do, is going to surface,” he says. “Keep up the BP-bashing a little bit longer and eventually, just out of reflex, Fox News and the Republican Party will be calling for Obama to make payments to them. Should be fun.”
The National Review’s Daniel Foster agreed with the sentiments, if not the phrasing, of Barton’s remarks. “Oh, and for the record, I agree in part with Rep. Barton that the establishment of the escrow fund — over and above the claims process that is already in place, and run by an Obama administration hack sold as an "independent third party" — is, if not illegal, than at least extra-legal, and another example of Democrats' selective disdain for the rule of law when it gets in the way of a government-run redistribution scheme. But, what a stupid way to say it, Rep. Barton! Apologizing to BP????? ‘A tragedy of the first proportion???’ Yeeesh.”
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo believes that the furor over Barton’s stance obscures how widely-held his views are within the GOP caucus. "Everybody's reacting to Barton's statement. But the House Republican Study Committee put out a pretty much identical statement yesterday about the Escrow account and President Obama yesterday. And more than a hundred members of the House Republican caucus belong to that group. That makes it much more of a Republican position than what Barton said.”