Why Are Senate Republicans Running Defense for BP?

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Just how screwed up is the Senate? Well, here’s an example. Yesterday Republicans blocked a bill that would grant subpoena power to the oil spill commission President Obama formed to investigate the Deepwater Horizon disaster and make policy recommendations to prevent future drilling calamities.

The House approved its version of the bill almost unanimously last week, with just Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) voting against it. Granting the commission this authority is pretty vital; basically, it will allow the commission to obtain documents, compel testimony from witnesses, and otherwise get a hold of necessary information (i.e. do its job.). House sponsor Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) says subpoena power is “absolutely critical to ensuring that BP and other private companies cannot stonewall” the commission. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), one of the Senate sponsors, has argued that without subpoena power “a commission is just window dressing.”

But when Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) attempted to bring up the bill under unanimous consent yesterday, Jim DeMint (R-SC) blocked it. His spokesman told Politico that DeMint didn’t object to it personally. On the floor, the senator said he was objecting “on behalf of other members of the Republican caucus.” Who in particular? Well, obviously no one wanted to admit as much.

There you have it: the US Congress, where a bill can be approved 420-1 in the House and then get denied even consideration in the Senate.

This is yet another terrible sign for moving anything in the way of reforms on offshore drilling. Democrats are planning to debate an as-yet-undetermined package of energy, oil-spill, and possibly climate provisions after they return from the July 4 recess. But they will of course need the votes of at least a few Republicans to proceed on any of it. And so far, the Senate can’t even move a bill as mundane as the subpoena legislation.

UPDATE: Ah, Greg Sargent just reported that Senate Republicans now say they will stop blocking the subpoena bill. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s spokesman says they won’t object when it is brought up again. They were just blocking it yesterday because they hadn’t yet had time to read the bill, according to DeMint’s spokesman. Maybe good things can happen in the Senate. But since senators have already gone home for the July 4 recess, we’ll have to wait until July 12 for the bill to be offered again.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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