Republicans Block Proposals to Raise Cap on Oil Spill Liability

Posted May 25, 2010 at 5:00pm

GOP opposition is turning Senate Democrats’ efforts to raise oil companies’ liabilities into a political exercise that could be carried out several more times before Members adjourn for the Memorial Day break.

One floor dust-up came when Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) denied unanimous consent to legislation by Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) that would raise the liability cap to $10 billion.

Several Senate proposals to change the existing $75 million liability cap are circulating in response to an ongoing oil leak stemming from an explosion last month on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) added another proposal to the mix Tuesday that would require oil giant BP to cover the cleanup costs associated with the Gulf Coast oil spill. “I want to fix a problem, not just make a speech,” said Vitter, whose home state has been the most affected by the leak. His proposal was blocked.

“I have a version that I think should pass, and I’m going to keep fighting for it,” Vitter said. “Sen. Menendez has a different version, and I’m sure he’ll keep doing the same. I think mine’s superior, but we can have that debate.”

Minutes later, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) rebuffed a request by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to amend a supplemental war spending measure with language that would require “responsible parties” to reimburse the federal government for emergency spending related to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Speaking to reporters after the dust-up, Lautenberg said BP “can afford to pay for their mistakes, as any company should.”

Republicans blocked similar attempts last week and maintain that increasing the liability cap requires more review. The debate is likely to return to the Senate floor this week before the chamber’s expected adjournment Friday.

Lautenberg also dismissed questions about the Obama administration’s response to the oil spill, saying, “They’re learning as they go.”

President Barack Obama and top officials have been met by broad criticism over the failure to contain the rush of oil flowing into the Gulf, and Obama announced Tuesday afternoon that he would travel to Louisiana on Friday.