John Boehner isn’t quite sure if he’s flipping or flopping these days. After initially saying taxpayers should be on the hook for costs associated with BP’s mess, Boehner quickly walked it back, blaming the curious gaffe on a misunderstanding. Going a step further this morning on ABC, Boehner actually endorsed the idea of lifting the liability cap and holding BP fully accountable:
“Well, Steny, guess what: I agree wholeheartedly with you,” Boehner said. “The American people want this oil leak stopped now. They want to know what happened. They want the Gulf cleaned up. And they want it all done now,” the minority leader said. “I just think that BP ought to be held responsible for all of the costs that are involved in this.” Boehner explained he wanted to change to current law so that BP would be responsible not just for the cost of cleanup but also for more economic damages than current law allows. “I think lifting the liability cap on BP and for this spill is appropriate.” Host Jake Tapper asked, “so lift it entirely for BP?” “Absolutely,” Boehner replied. “They should be held responsible for every dime of this cost.”
Steve Benen rightly notes that — with the Minority Leader’s endorsement — legislation to lift the liability cap should be approved overwhelmingly, effectively taking the issue off the table as a campaign issue. But should is the key word here. I wouldn’t be surprised if BP still has some Republican friends in Congress willing to look out for the British company’s financial well-being. And indeed, when the Senate tried to take this up three weeks ago, Senator Inhofe used several procedural maneuvers to block the legislation without a vote. Other Republican ideas have included raising the liability cap somewhat, but tying it to the company’s recent profits in order to preserve a limit.
While Boehner was caught in a tight spot and appears to have come around on the issue in an attempt to deflect the inconsistency of his position, I’m don’t think many other Republicans will come along quite so easily. If I’m right, Democrats would be wise to absolutely hammer them for it.
As oil continues to gush into the Gulf all summer, the public’s approval of BP and support for offshore drilling will both likely continue to tank. If I were advising Senate Democrats I’d tell them to bundle some common sense energy efficiency measures and clean energy investments with a package of oil industry regulations and accountability policies. Call it the Big Oil Accountability Act. Debate the bill on the floor of the Senate in July and make Republicans choose between BP’s profits and energy independence before leaving for August recess. Include a collection of provisions that would collectively save us more oil than we currently produce by drilling off our coasts. Provisions like vastly expanding high-speed passenger and freight rail, subsidizing innovative transit solutions in cities and suburbs and mandating vastly increased vehicle fuel efficiency. But I’m not advising Senate Democrats, so we’ll see how this plays out.
Update — Greg Sargent makes the point well:
But Boehner did flatly endorse holding BP responsible for "every dime," putting him generally in the right place on the issue. His announcement amounts to a tacit acknowledgment that public rage at BP, and the public’s desire that lawmakers hold the company accountable, have left Republicans little maneuvering room. In other words, the insistence on holding BP fully accountable is, and will continue to be, a very potent political issue for Dems.