Branding Boehner With the BP Bailout

Whether or not House Minority Leader John Boehner wants taxpayers to foot the bill for any oil spill cleanup or damages, Democrats are branding him as a supporter of a BP Bailout.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching a website called, and it is sending out an e-mail to its 4-million-strong supporter list this afternoon.

Boehner's office, meanwhile, has made it clear that the minority leader does not want taxpayers to bear any part of the oil spill cost. BP, Boehner spokesman Micheal Steel has said, should pay for everything.

So how did this happen? How is it that Democrats are tagging Boehner with the making-taxpayers-pay-for-the-cleanup attack?

It began when Boehner said at his weekly press briefing on Thursday that "I think the people responsible in the oil spill--BP and the federal government--should take full responsibility for what's happening there." TPM's Brian Beutler asked Boehner directly whether he agreed with statements by Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue that the government bears some cleanup responsibility. Boehner gave a general answer to the question; Beutler reported that Boehner, in short, does think the government should pay for the cleaning up. Afterward, spokesman Steel said that's not the case.

Boehner has said before that BP should pay for everything. In a May 3 statement posted on his website, Boehner makes his views pretty clear: "The White House must ensure that BP bears the entire financial burden to clean up this disaster.  Not a dime of taxpayer money should be used to clean up their mess."

(The Chamber, meanwhile, doesn't think it said it supported taxpayer funding for cleanup efforts. "Let me be clear: the recovery costs should not be on the backs of American taxpayers or the businesses that have been adversely affected by this tragedy," Donohue said in a statement today. That's not necessarily the same as 100% BP liability. The Chamber doesn't support retroactively raising the liability cap. So, it seems, it does support some government funding.)

But the lack of directness in Boehner's response, and the resulting confusion and questions about what he really thinks about all this, have led eager Democrats to try saddling him with the "BP Bailout" tag.

Boehner is appearing alongside House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, and BP's oil-spill liability will surely come up.

As with everything discussed by every lawmaker ever, we won't know what Boehner really stands for until a bill on oil-spill liability comes before the House and Boehner casts his vote.

Even then, BP's liability is a more complicated question than it seems. Demcoratic Congressman Rush Holt has proposed a bill to raise the liability cap, essentially making BP liable for call cleanup and damages; Democratic Senator Robert Menendez has a similar proposal. But some worry that raising the liability cap for all oil spills will put smaller oil companies out of business, because no one will be able to afford the risk of drilling, insurance on that risk, etc. Consequently, Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter put forth a proposal to raise the liability cap only on BP.

Boehner likely won't support the Rush Holt bill. That could make it even tougher for him to respond to questions over his thoughts on spill liability; complicated answers don't usually play well in politics. At some point, Holt's bill will come to the floor, and the legislative process will come to a head. Alternative bills may emerge, and we'll get something closer to a final answer in the form of a recorded congressional vote. Hopefully that will clear things up all around.