Senate Standoff on Spill Liability

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After a third Republican block of a Democratic bill to raise the liability on oil spills, the GOP put forward its own bill on Tuesday afternoon. This one would eliminate the cap only for the current spill, but not change the cap set under the Oil Pollution Act for future spills, which stands at $75 million.

The new bill comes from Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and David Vitter (R-La.), and also contains provisions that would expedite the claims process for Gulf residents. Vitter said on the floor that their measure would hold BP to its pledge to cover all costs related to the current spill. “That’s a contract offer,” he said on the floor Tuesday. “We’re saying we’ll take it.”

Murkowski blocked a first effort from Democrats to bring up a bill that would have raised the cap to $10 billion. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) blocked the same measure last week as well as a revised measure that would eliminate the cap outright on Tuesday. Murkowski said in a statement that she thinks the standard liability should be raised, but that “Congress needs to carefully consider what the appropriate cap should be” before proceeding.

Robert Menendez (D-NJ), cosponsor of Democratic effort to remove the cap, in turn blocked the Murkowski-Vitter bill Tuesday. “What happens when, God forbid, this happens again and the company doesn’t make this kind of offer,” Menendez said.

Both parties have accused the other of grandstanding on the issue. Meanwhile, oil is still gushing into the Gulf at an unknown rate and the liability cap remains a measly $75 million. Our Senate at work, folks! Never letting a good environmental disaster get in the way of partisan squabbling.

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