It seems like Rep Boehner’s office is in the process of punking most of the other reporters up on the Hill by passing around a bamboozle quote that dodges the main issue at stake. To understand, you’ve got to understand the basic issue involved: the difference between the different kinds of liability involved.
It basically comes down to the difference between cleaning up the spill and liability for the damage it caused. In layman’s jargon, the ‘clean up’ may sound like it applies to everything but it doesn’t. There’s the physical removal of the oil and then there’s liability for the damages the spill created — like destroying property, killing certain fisheries, closing a port, etc. As you’d expect, there’s probably an order of magnitude difference between the price tag for the first and the second. And that’s what this all comes down to.
No one disagrees that BP is on the line for the clean up. And the numbers tossed around for that job are in the billion or two billion range. The question is whether they have the liability for the damage. Under current law, their liability for the damages are capped at $75 million, in other words, virtually nothing compared to the true scale of the liability. That cap could be thrown out if BP is found to have acted with gross negligence or violation or certain federal regulations. But let’s set that aside for the moment. The question is who’s going to pick up the tab for everything else? BP or the federal government with some sort of massive rescue bill?
There’s a move afoot to raise or get rid of the cap altogether. BP and the Chamber of Commerce is fighting tooth and nail to prevent that. That’s what Tom Donohue was talking about last week. And that’s what our reporter asked Boehner about today. Boehner’s office is now saying he misunderstood the question and they’re sending quotes around to reporters with Boehner saying he thinks the government shouldn’t pay for the clean up. But no one ever said the government would pay for the clean up. It’s who pays the really big money — the damages. So we’ve asked repeatedly whether Boehner agrees or disagrees with Donohue about BP having to pay damages. They refuse to answer the question. And there’s your answer.
BP doesn’t pay. So either the Gulf Coast collapses or the taxpayers bail everyone out.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.