Why Are Senate Republicans Running Defense for BP?

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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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.