Bachmann, BP and the GOP

To follow on from Doug’s post on Rep. Joe Barton’s apology to BP’s CEO, I noted last night the following, which I have not yet had time to write about.

Via the Minnesota Independent: Bachmann calls oil spill victim escrow account ‘a redistribution-of-wealth fund’.  The article quotes Bachman as follows:

The president just called for creating a fund that would be administered by outsiders, which would be more of a redistribution-of-wealth fund.  And now it appears like we’ll be looking at one more gateway for more government control, more money to government.  If there is a disaster, why is it that government is the one who always seems to benefit after a disaster, and that’s of course what cap-and-trade would be.


They shouldn’t have to be fleeced and make chumps to have to pay for perpetual unemployment and all the rest — they’ve got to be legitimate claims.

The other thing we have to remember is that Obama loves to make evil whatever company it is that he wants to get more power from. He makes them evil, and what we’ve got to ask ourselves is: Do we really want to be paying $9 for a gallon of gas? Because that could be the final result of this.

I must confess, I find this current move on the part of some members of the Republican Party (some more noted here by Steve Benen) to be more than a little odd.  What is the political calculus that results in the notion the defending British Petroleum is a good idea, especially in regards to a fund created to make sure that those affected by the spill are compensated?

I don’t even understand the ideological impetus, insofar as it would seem that the free market philosophy that supposedly guides the Republican Party would dictate that if a private company makes a massive mistake like this then it is responsible to pay for damages—especially since the only other possibility would be the government (i.e., the taxpayers).

Sure, I can understand why these politicians might want to criticize the Obama administration, but doing so by publically siding with BP is strange politics for sure and helps to reinforce the stereotype of Republicans as in the pockets of big business no matter what.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. PD Shaw says:

    Prof Taylor, there is a fund in existence “to make sure that those effected by the spill are compensated,” the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Plus, when the government pays legitimate, documented damage claims out of it, it has the right to seek reimbursement from BP through subrogation. As far as I can tell, the Fund has only one serious problem, Congress capped payouts from the Fund at $1 billion per oil spill. Placing the money in the Fund and asking Congress to amend the cap (either increase it or give the POTUS discretion to waive it) would be the legal thing to do. It would also be the transparent thing to do.

    Maybe legal authorization will come, but I’m left with the assumption that the reason the existing framework is being ignored is because Obama wants to pay claims that would be unsubstantiated or illegitimate under existing law.

  2. I’m left with the assumption that the reason the existing framework is being ignored is because Obama wants to pay claims that would be unsubstantiated or illegitimate under existing law.

    Based on what? And that is not a snarky or sarcasm question. I am legitimately curious.

    And even if there are legitimate criticism about this fund (which I suspect there are, as with all things), why take this political route?

  3. There are legitimate questions to be asked about this escrow fund, but the willingness of people like Bachmann and Barton to push the argument that BP is some sort of aggrieved party here is both politically stupid and factually inaccurate.

  4. sam says:

    “Maybe legal authorization will come, but I’m left with the assumption that the reason the existing framework is being ignored is because Obama wants to pay claims that would be unsubstantiated or illegitimate under existing law.”

    What are the demonstrated grounds for judging the escrow fund illegal? I asked the question before in this fashion:

    “If BP agrees to set up an escrow fund through and in its own bank, what legal authority is required? A private company is setting up a private escrow fund (to cover claims against the company). Or is the argument that the government is saying, “Under the authority of X, we order you to set up an escrow fund”? I haven’t seen any mention of that, nor of the president setting up the fund. All I’ve seen is that BP will set up the account.”

    Doug replied,

    “The question is where the authority for the government to administer this fund arises from …”

    Now my following question is still pending. The claim that the government will administer the fund seems to be grounded on the appointment of Mr. Feinberg as the fund administrator. But I asked (and haven’t been able to find out) if in fact, Mr.Feinberg will stay in government while he administers the fund. Does anybody know?

    And btw, how would the appointment of Mr. Feinberg to adminster the fund differ, really, from the appointment of a federal mediator through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service? “The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is an independent agency of the United States government, founded in 1947, which provides mediation services to industry, community and government agencies worldwide. One of its most common tasks is to help to mediate labor disputes around the country.” [From the wiki page] Just asking.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Prof. Taylor,

    I think Bachmann is probably certifably crazy. I’m not going to try to figure out what she says and why. I do want to know why the administration is creating a new fund to do what the existing fund purports to do.

    I’m certainly open to other suggestions, but to me the most reasonable one is that the existing Fund is for damages that can be proven, and some people suffering in these communities along the Gulf may not have legally cognizable damages or be able to document them or be able to document them for more than a year. You bypass the existing fund, you bypass the checks and restrictions Congress put on its use.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    sam, BP has been paying out money along the Gulf for some time. Reading some of the community forums in Orange Beach, payments are being made in a half hour at the local BP claims station. If you don’t like BP’s decision, you can take your claim to the Oil Spill Prevention Fund where the government will assess the claim, and if it’s sound, pay it (and then go after BP for reimbursement).

    I admit to being entirely confused by what Mr. Feinberg is supposed to be doing, what standards he is supposed to apply, who he answers to, etc. Can Mr. Feinburg pocket the money?

  7. Herb says:

    This is what happens when you believe that the government can’t do anything right and private business can’t do anything wrong. Not just believe it as a kind of generic guiding principle with some notable exceptions, but believe it to be tattooed onto the very fabric of the universe.

  8. Tom Grant says:

    Because the Republican Party will find fault with anything Obama does. He could travel back in time to prevent the oil spill, and they’d still be on Meet The Press caterwauling about it.

  9. Max Lybbert says:

    I didn’t understand the idea behind setting up the escrow account to begin with. BP has been paying claims this whole time. Cutting checks isn’t nearly as hard as plugging a hole a mile under water. I hadn’t heard of any payment processing trouble.

    I guess it’s one part of the problem that President Obama can understand. And it’s easy to pick a czar for.

    I’m also not aware of any law providing for the escrow account. Very similar to how GM’s bankruptcy was governed by laws that weren’t actually written in statute.

    From a political point of view, I don’t see the reason for apologizing to BP while BP has become the new Corporate Satan. Frankly, from a purely partisan “what helps my party most” tactical point of view, it would make more sense to wait a couple of months and then condemn the whole thing as an executive power grab.