Huff Post- Sam Stein- First Posted: 05-25-10 10:25 AM | Updated: 05-25-10 10:25 AM
It’s been more than three weeks since Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) unveiled a proposal to raise the liability cap to $10 billion for oil companies involved in economically damaging offshore spills. And despite two efforts to pass the legislation through the Senate, the backing of the president and an ever-dire crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, there currently exists no clear path forward for getting the idea into law.
Under normal circumstances, the inaction would be chalked up to the normal lethargy of the Senate chamber. Three weeks, after all, is a relative blip in a legislative calendar that often sees bills and nominations debated well beyond that. But disasters — such as the expanding oil spill in the Gulf — usually spur quick, populist-stoked legislative action. The mere fact that Congress has been unable to accomplish something as politically obvious as asking companies like BP to pay more for the spills they create has some on the Hill shaking their heads.
“Beyond anything else,” said one Senate Democratic aide, “it’s frustrating.”
The failure to pass Menendez’s proposal has become symbolic, in no small way, of what Democratic strategist James Carville described as a “lackadaisical” response to the crisis as a whole. As with the government’s efforts to stop the flow of leaking oil, top Senate Democratic aides insist that they are utilizing all the available tools to get the liability cap raise into law. So far, two unanimous consent agreements to pass the bill have failed after a single Republican senator expressed objections — worried, they say, that the higher liability would make it prohibitively expensive for smaller oil companies to drill in the Gulf.
Democrats in the Senate have pledged to keep pushing for votes. But, as one top aide, noted, with leadership planning to consider a war supplemental bill, a tax extenders bill, judicial nominees and so on, time is getting tight. Senator Menendez is set to brief reporters on the matter Tuesday afternoon. And it would not come as a surprise if, in addition to bashing GOP opposition, he unveils a plan to introduce his bill as an amendment to a larger piece of legislation.