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BP 'shakedown' claim is a sad joke

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor
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Barton ashamed of $20B 'shakedown'
  • Rep. Joe Barton apologized to BP officials for "shakedown" by White House
  • Roland Martin says Barton's claim was outrageous
  • He says the White House properly got BP to set up fund for oil victims
  • He says taxpayers should be relieved government won't have to foot bill

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin, a CNN political analyst, is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith," and the new book, "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable Network and host of a Sunday morning news show.

(CNN) -- If you've ever heard a corny joke, it likely was an Aggie joke. These are launched against those of us who hold Texas A&M University (aka the "Aggies") near and dear, usually by fans of our arch-rival, the University of Texas.

Some are pretty funny, such as this one: "Did you hear about the Aggie that drove his pickup into the lake? His dog drowned while he tried to get the tailgate down."

After today's hearing, I'm confident a new one will become popular: "Did you hear that joke of a congressman who actually felt sorry for BP? Yea, he was that Aggie, Joe Barton."

Anyone who has read or listened to me knows that I am proud of my native Texas, and especially my alma mater, Texas A&M University.

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But after listening to Barton apologize this morning to BP officials for having to set aside $20 billion in an escrow fund to assist the victims of the biggest oil disaster in American history, I am ashamed that this poor excuse of an elected official has disgraced his Texas congressional district.

It shouldn't matter that Barton is often representing the interests of the oil industry. Any sane person would be outraged at the response thus far of BP, as well as the insensitive and asinine comments by company representatives.

In his opening statement, Barton was so over the top that even his fellow Republicans must have thought he bumped his head on his way into today's hearing.

"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown -- in this case a $20 billion shakedown."

A shakedown?

The federal government, the states of Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi have had to amass tens of thousands of workers, and spend millions of dollars trying to do all they can to contain the oil gushing out of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Businesses have shut down, fishermen are trying to figure out how they are going to feed their families in the wake of the devastation, and beaches along the Gulf Coast are closed, preventing tourists from spending dollars in the region.

All of his because of the explosion on BP's oil platform 60 days ago that killed 11 people and continues to cause irreparable harm to the environment.

But that means nothing to Barton, who truly is carrying the oil of the industry. You would think that a man who is always talking about government spending and fiscal conservatism would want a private company to foot the bill for an oil spill.

Why should the American taxpayer have to spend our precious dollars to clean up the massive mess? When the World Trade Center's twin towers were brought down on September 11, 2001, the federal government created the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

Nearly $7 billion was awarded, and that event wasn't the federal government's fault.

It is right, fair and just that the Obama administration should force BP to fork over billions to assist those who have seen their way of life destroyed by the oil spill, and the American taxpayer, including those in Barton's district, should feel confident that BP will repay the federal government and the states every penny spent on cleaning up their mess.

Any man or woman with a conscience should deplore Barton's comments, and no Republican should stand with him. Either you are on the side of BP or the American people, especially those in the Gulf.

Joe, shame on you. And when I bump into you in College Station at a Texas A&M football game, I'll tell you this personally.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.

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