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Exclusive: Menendez Introducing Unlimited Cap On BP Damages

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Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is set to introduce on Tuesday afternoon a bill that would fully eliminate any cap on the amount of economic damages that oil companies would have to pay for spills they've caused.

The New Jersey Democrat is revising an earlier version of legislation he introduced which would have raised the cap from $75 million dollars in liability to $10 billion. Now, the cap will be effectively unlimited, an aide said.

The revised legislation, which ups the ante a bit in the oil-spill debate, will get its first floor hearing on Tuesday afternoon as Senate Democratic leadership is expected to call for unanimous consent. In all likelihood, a Republican senator will object (they have objected twice already to Menendez's $10 billion cap) forcing Democrats into another course of action. It should be noted, as well, that the Obama White House has refused so far to endorse an actual dollar figure for where they'd like a liability cap to be, though they have expressed support for raising it.

That said, the New Jersey Democrat is hoping that by making liability unlimited he can effectively remove the GOP talking point that the $10 billion cap was an arbitrary number. He's also hoping to ride the growing wave of anger at BP for its oversight of the spill in the Gulf.

UPDATE: Senator James Inhofe (R-Okl.) blocked a unanimous consent agreement on Menendez's proposal Tuesday afternoon -- citing, among other things, the prohibitive effects it would have on smaller oil companies hoping to drill in the Gulf.

Expect Democrats to continue pushing the legislation going forward, though there is some question as to whether it will be introduced as an amendment to a larger bill and whether leadership will stick with an unlimited cap.

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