Obama slams Republicans over BP `apology` and economy
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Last Updated: Thursday, July 01, 2010, 23:26
Racine (Wisconsin): US President Barack Obama lampooned Republicans over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the economy on Thursday, seeking to twist political liabilities to his advantage as elections loom.

Obama lacerated the opposition party as "out of touch" and of causing crises by presiding over lax regulation of the oil and finance industries, in a significant sharpening of his political rhetoric.

In midwestern Wisconsin, on the latest leg of a tour designed to highlight his effort to cut long unemployment lines, Obama said that despite multiple challenges, nothing was more important than beating the "great recession."

The president cited a gaffe by a leading Republican lawmaker who said the US government's hardline tactics were a "tragedy" for BP, to lambast the opposition party ahead of November's congressional polls.

He said some Republicans opposed raising the legal cap on liabilities that BP must pay above clean-up costs after America's worst environmental disaster and a USD 20 billion BP escrow fund for businesses victimized by it.

"The top Republican on the energy committee apologized to BP ... that we had made them set up this fund," Obama said at a town-hall meeting.

"He called it a tragedy that we had made them pay for the destruction that they had caused .... the tragedy is what the people of the Gulf are going through right now.

"That's the tragedy. And our government has a responsibility to hold those who caused it accountable. They want to take us backwards. We want to move forwards."

Democrats are mercilessly using since-retracted comments by Republican Representative Joe Barton, who apologized to BP for the escrow fund, which he called a 20-billion-dollar White House "shakedown."

Republicans hit back, accusing Obama of playing a cheap stunt by using the BP disaster in such a political speech.

"It is unconscionable that President Obama would reduce the oil crisis and the people of the Gulf to a 'talking point.'" said Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.

Obama also took aim at John Boehner, who leads Republicans in the House of Representatives, picking up on an interview in which he said a White House Wall Street reform build was tantamount to "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon."

"Americans don't believe the financial crisis was an ant. They know that it's what led to the worst recession since the Great Depression," Obama said.

Boehner hit back, accusing the White House of "childish partisanship."

"In the Gulf, we don't yet know what caused the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. But what we do know is that for decades, the oil industry has been able to essentially write its own rules and safety regulations. Industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. And oil and gas companies were allowed to basically fill out their own safety inspection forms," Obama said.

"In Washington, nearly a decade of tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires led to little more than sluggish growth, a shrinking middle class, your paychecks flat-lined. Wages and incomes did not go up.

"Even when the economy was growing, it wasn't growing for you. For all the party's moralizing about fiscal discipline, because it is true that part of what we inherited is a real significant problem in terms of spending at the federal level, the economic policies they put in place turned a USD 237 billion surplus into a USD 1.3 trillion deficit," Obama said.

Referring to the Wall Street Reform Bill, Obama said that the leader of Republicans in the House compared financial crisis to an ant and I'm quoting here "using a nuclear weapon to target an ant."

"This is the same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly 8 million jobs. The same crisis that cost people their homes, their life savings."

Obama said there are Republican lawmakers who are against raising the limit on what companies like BP have to pay if they cause an environmental disaster.

"A few of them said they were against the USD 20 billion fund that we set up to make sure that workers and businesses in the Gulf whose livelihoods have been harmed by the oil spill would get compensation," he said.

"The top Republican on the energy committee apologised to BP. Did you all read about that? He apologized to BP that we had made them set up this fund.

Called it "a tragedy" that we had made them pay for the destruction that they had caused. Now, I got to say, they pulled it back after -- he meant it, but then they kind of walked it back," Obama said.


First Published: Thursday, July 01, 2010, 23:26

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