Late this past week, Republicans in the Senate effectively blocked legislation that would have raised the cap on the amount of money oil companies like BP would have to pay for economic damages caused by oil spills.
It was, if nothing else, risky politics. As it stands now, a company will pay only $75 million in economic-related liabilities. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wants the figured bumped up to $10 billion. Asked why the GOP would block such an effort, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) suggested on Sunday that raising the cap was unnecessary because BP had given him it's word that it would cover the costs of the spill in the Gulf.
"I've offered supportive legislation to expand it also," the Senator said on ABC's "This Week." "But BP people repeatedly stated at the hearing and have told me personally, they are going to be responsible for all legitimate claims that are made against them. So I think we need to watch that closely. They signed as the responsible party, in other words, when they got the privilege to drill in the gulf, they said 'we will be responsible for all damage to the beaches, all clean-up costs.' Then the question is how far beyond that do they go, and other consequential economic or other damages. They have said they will be responsible for paying them. They should have more than enough money to pay them. And we expect them to pay every cent."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made much the same case as Sessions on Sunday. During an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," he argued that BP would "be held to" its promise to pay for all damages.
"They ought to pay for it and they will pay for it," McConnell said.
The danger in raising an economic liability cap, McConnell added, was that it would make it so that only large oil companies could drill off-shore. "If you raise the cap too high, there will be no competition in the Gulf and you will leave all the business to the big guys like BP," he said.
Democrats have scoffed at the idea that their bill would essentially favor Big Oil over the smaller shops -- by allowing the former to continue drilling while making it economic unfeasible for the latter. Companies that are taking major risks by drilling off-shore should, after all, have the resources, to cover a massive spill should they happen. Otherwise, there shouldn't be drilling at all.
As for trusting BP to cover the entire cost of economic damages (as Sessions and McConnell argue), that too seemed like a leap of faith that Democrats in Senate were unwilling to take. And immediately following Sessions' appearance on the show, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-.V.T) urged bipartisan support for Menendez's bill.
"When the Democrats tried to [pass a] law to make sure [that taxpayers] didn't have to pay for it and that big oil everywhere would have to pay for a cleanup, Republicans filibustered and blocked that," he said. "Frankly this is something Republicans and Democrats ought to come together, not allow Big Oil to call the shots but allow the law to call the shots."
Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), likewise, called on Congress to pass legislation to "make sure BP pays for the whole thing."
"I don't believe there should be [a cap]," he said. "There is an effort in Congress to remove that cap and I think it will pass." (He was referring to Menendez's legislation, which won't remove the cap but raise it substantially).
Watch Sessions' appearance: