House OKs Gulf spill bill


The House on Friday narrowly passed a robust package of offshore oil drilling reforms, representing the biggest overhaul of the industry in decades and giving Democrats powerful talking points for the August recess.

The bill squeaked through on a vote of 209-193, as oil state and some Blue Dog Democrats joined Republicans and oil industry lobbyists in fighting what they called an onerous, overlarge package that goes far beyond addressing the safety lapses that led to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Prospects for a companion bill in the Senate are murky at best; if oil-state Democrats join Republicans to vote against the measure, the effort is likely to die there.

For now, it appears the primary effect of the so-called spill bills will be to provide Democrats with ammunition to attack Republicans as supporting the interests of Big Oil and BP-like polluters.

“These are the types of votes that make strong commercials,” said a Democratic strategist, who said campaign committees are preparing to unleash a string of home-district ads aimed at Republicans who voted against the bill. “You can show this with Joe Barton apologizing to BP, over and over.”

GOP strategists say they are planning no ads based on the vote but will push back at the ads with the accusation that Democrats exploited the spill to ram through stringent new regulations on the oil industry.

“Now that Democrats have admitted they are using this job-killing bill in order to run false attack ads, they owe an apology to the residents of the Gulf for exploiting a tragedy for political purposes,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

House Democratic leaders presented the package as their chief legislative response to the Gulf disaster, chief among them banning BP and other companies with poor safety records from receiving new offshore drilling permits until they meet new safety requirements and removing the existing $75 million cap on oil companies’ liability in the case of future spills.

Democrats also incorporated a slew of oil industry reforms that they have tried but failed to move for years, kept at bay by the oil industry and its many allies in Congress. Environmentalists hailed the expansion of the bill as a long-overdue regulatory overhaul of an industry that last saw major new regulations in 1978.
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