A moment of candor from Democrat Sen. Max Baucus today at the Senate EPW Committee hearing on the Boxer-Menendez oil spill liability amendments. His comments are directed at grandstanding committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, sitting next to him. His soliloquy on the Dems’ rush to pass legislation to send a Big Oil-bashing message comes in the context of debating liability limits and their consequences on smaller companies.
To put it as plainly as possible: Barbara Boxer is so transparently trading good sense for good sound bytes that even one of her own (who, he hastens to point out, intends to go along with her scheme, albeit not without reservations) can’t help but point it out on the record.
Republicans were looking to give the President discretion on the liability caps on a case by case, well by well basis. As Senator Inhofe Inhofe (R-OK) put it:
“In other words, under this approach, the President could make distinctions between different wells and the different circumstances attendant to each-and then set the liability caps accordingly. This is a reasonable approach that allows for careful deliberation, one that balances the need for safety, environmental protection, domestic energy production, and jobs.”
Instead, Democrats went for the Boxer amendments to the Menendez plan, which, according to the Hill Blog, removes all liability caps, both retroactively in the case of the BP spill, and in all future spills. Click through for the transcript, in which Baucus hits on why that’s the wrong move.
I know we had a hearing on this subject, Madame Chairman. I, it’s starting to bother me that the last year, roughly, we don’t legislate very much. We don’t … I’m speaking generally, and I’m speaking only from my own personal experience with the Finance Committee. We don’t have any mark-ups any more. We don’t burrow down and ask tough questions of witnesses, trying to establish proper policy, near as much we used to. Rather, a lot of amendments and bills are more in the nature of message amendments and bills. And it’s, I find it disconcerting. I know there was a hearing on this subject, regrettably I wasn’t here for that hearing. But I do have some concern about a total removal, a total unlimited liability. I mean, there was a reason for Price-Anderson. I don’t know if those policy reasons are still applicable today or not, but there was a reason, and it was passed. I’m going to vote against this amendment, but I just hope that in the future we know what the heck it is we’re doing. It may, this amendment may have the effect of driving out some smaller companies, I don’t know. It may have the effect of allowing foreign outfits come in, I don’t know. But I do know that the current limit is too low, and the 10 billion dollar limit made sense to me. Unlimited liability is, … it may be the best policy. I also understand, on the other hand, that the top insurance companies, not brokers, but insurance companies say that oil companies price all this in anyways when they purchase policies. Now, of course, if it’s unlimited, the policy might be more expensive. But it’s … I’m going to vote no, but I just urge us to think more deeply about what it is we’re doing on the margin, and little less offering message amendments and bills. I’m not casting aspersions on anybody here, but it’s just the impression that I think we’re moving too much in the message direction in this Congress and not enough in the legislative side of it. Now, I’m not going to get into why that’s happened, I have strong reasons as to why that’s happened, I’m going to avoid that for the moment and just caution us to think more substantive, try to burrow down and find out … so we’re doing a good job of doing what we’re doing.
The Price-Anderson Act that Baucus mentions was passed in 1957. It limited liability in the nuclear sector. Why? Because insurance companies wouldn’t underwrite the fledgling industry. In the case of oil, we’re going to see small companies driven out of business and, as Baucus rightly fears, more foreign giants will come in.
“I think we’re moving too much in the message direction in this Congress.”
Senator Baucus is arguing that Democrats were more concerned with padding their anti-big-oil talking points rather than taking meaningful steps to ensure the best outcomes possible. Senator Inhofe agrees:
I suppose it was paramount that today’s outcome conform to the talking point that one party stands with Big Oil while the other stands with “the people.”
But the irony is that if the Boxer substitute amendments become law, drilling in the Gulf will dry up, and the only players left standing will be BP and China’s National Offshore Oil Corporation. In other words, Big Oil.
Ironic indeed. One industry insider tells me: “You know, you really can’t get at these big multinationals. Every single time Congress aims at them, they instead hit the small American domestic producer. The stupid jerks on the Hill don’t even know we exist.” They’re more interested in looking like crusaders than in preserving American jobs. And in the process, I should add, they end up furthering our dependence on foreign sources. Brilliant.
Grandstanding on a crisis for the slim payoff of a trivial talking point about not being on the side of big oil, ignorant of the consequences of such action, and uninterested even in investigating them, as Baucus points out … yep. Sounds like Democrats. Rahm must be so proud. You should never let a good crisis go to waste.
And in the interest of never letting yet another Barbara “Don’t Call Me Ma’am” Boxer betrayal of trust go to waste, do take a moment to support Carly Fiorina, won’t you?
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