Let’s stipulate that British Petroleum is about as radioactive as any company could be right now because of the Gulf oil spill. As such, any empathy for BP is, well, pretty dumb, politically. So Congressman Joe Barton’s apologetic words to CEO Tony Hayward during Thursday’s hearing got the Texas Republican absolutely dog-piled by just about everyone in Washington with access to a microphone — Democrats and Republicans.
Barton is an old hand and should’ve known better. He was trying to take issue with the concept and structure of a $20 billion fund for handling spill-related damage claims, to be paid into by BP. Barton said it looked like a White House “skakedown” — not the greatest word choice, to be sure. Yet, some people rightly worry about the White House ordering a private entity to do such a thing, arguing BP could address claims on its own and that there’s a court system to hash things out if claimants and the company can’t agree. Others note that as BP pays into the fund — $5 billion a year over the next four years — consumers ultimately could bear the cost in the form of higher prices.
Unfortunately for Barton, it sounded like he was siding with BP, and later he had to make one of those weasely Washington apologies — regret if anyone misconstrued his remarks. Lots of people did, proving the political lesson that if something over there is glowing white hot in broad daylight, don’t get near it, no matter how valid your argument might be.