Obama Assures Public on Spill Cleanup, but Vitter Is Critical

Posted May 22, 2010 at 5:00am

President Barack Obama on Saturday touted Democratic efforts to address the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, even as Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was lambasting Congress for holding oversight hearings in the midst of the monthlong crisis.

In his weekly radio address, Obama sought to reassure the public that the administration is aggressively responding to the spill, saying, “We are drawing on America’s best minds and using the world’s best technology to stop the leak. We’ve deployed over 1,100 vessels, about 24,000 personnel, and more than 2 million total feet of boom to help contain it. And we’re doing all we can to assist struggling fishermen, and the small businesses and communities that depend on them.”

Obama also attacked BP, Halliburton and other companies that controlled the oil rig and vowed to hold them accountable for the costs of the cleanup. “First and foremost, what led to this disaster was a breakdown of responsibility on the part of BP and perhaps others, including Transocean and Halliburton. And we will continue to hold the relevant companies accountable,” Obama said.

Obama also laid some of the blame on the federal government, noting, “even as we continue to hold BP accountable, we also need to hold Washington accountable. Now, this catastrophe is unprecedented in its nature, and it presents a host of new challenges we are working to address. But the question is what lessons we can learn from this disaster to make sure it never happens again.”

The president used the address to highlight a number of efforts being undertaken by the administration to ensure similar disasters do not occur in the future, including the creation Friday of a bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

“While there are a number of ongoing investigations … the purpose of this commission is to consider both the root causes of the disaster and offer options on what safety and environmental precautions we need to take to prevent a similar disaster from happening again.”

But while Obama was seeking to reassure the public, Vitter used his response address to blast Congressional Democrats, charging that their decision to hold hearings so soon after the spill began has hurt the cleanup and recovery effort.

Noting the devastation to the area, Vitter said, “That’s why it’s so frustrating to many Louisianans that while the crisis actually continues in the Gulf — while we’re still fighting to contain the well — Washington Democratic committee chairmen have rushed to create media events for television cameras instead of devoting full attention to stopping the immediate problem.”

“I guess it’s typical of the culture in Washington for politicians to believe that they can solve an ongoing crisis with statements and testimonies in Congressional committee rooms. But the time for committee hearings is for after the well has been capped — not before,” he added.

Vitter also attacked Democrats who have argued that the tragedy is a prime example of the need for a major shift in the nation’s energy policy.

“Some in Washington have tried to seize on this real human tragedy in the Gulf to advocate for a radical new energy agenda. That only cheapens the loss of those who’ve lost loved ones and brushes aside the ongoing, unsolved problem to spring forward with an emotionally charged political agenda. That’s wrong and, frankly, an example of bankrupt leadership,” Vitter said.

“Both Republicans and Democrats say they want to decrease our foreign dependence on oil, but ending all domestic energy production offshore would only make us that much more dependent. And this false choice on how to proceed in the future of energy exploration in the wake of a terrible accident contributes little to the debate,” he added.