Texas's Rep. Joe Barton gave the opening statement for Republicans at today's House Energy and Commerce hearing on the BP oil spill. He immediately sparked controversy by calling yesterday's plan to establish a $20 billion claims fund for the oil spill a "tragedy of the first proportion" and "a $20 billion shakedown." Barton proceeded to personally apologize to witness Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, for the "slush fund" President Obama forced him to agree to:
I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure that, again, in my words, amounts to some sort of a shakedown.
Rep. Ed Markey used his own opening statement to vehemently disagree with Barton:
I want to begin by disagreeing in the strongest possible terms with what Mr. Barton said in his opening statement. Not only was the compensation that was created yesterday at the White House ... not a 'slush fund' and not a 'shakedown' -- rather it was the government of the United States working to protect the most vulnerable citizens that we have in our country right now: the residents of the Gulf."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also issued an immediate rejoinder, e-mailed to reporters on the White House press list:
What is shameful is that Joe Barton seems to have more concern for big corporations that caused this disaster than the fishermen, small business owners and communities whose lives have been devastated by the destruction. Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a 'tragedy', but most Americans know that the real tragedy is what the men and women of the Gulf Coast are going through right now. Members from both parties should repudiate his comments.