The Boehner backpedal

THE BOEHNER BACKPEDAL…. Following up on an earlier item, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) probably realizes how politically problematic his remarks were this morning.

To briefly recap, Tom Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argued last week that American taxpayers should help shoulder the costs of the BP oil spill disaster. Given the affection between the Chamber and congressional Republicans, Brian Beutler asked Boehner, “Do you agree with Tom Donohue of the Chamber that the government and taxpayers should pitch in to clean up the oil spill?”

Boehner endorsed het Donohue line: “I think the people responsible in the oil spill — BP and the federal government — should take full responsibility for what’s happening there.”

Soon after, Boehner’s spokesperson said the Minority Leader “didn’t understand” what Beutler asked. Now, Boehner’s office is saying we didn’t understand the Minority Leader’s answer.

According to Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, the GOP leader stood by what he’s said since May 3 — “Not a dime of taxpayer money should be used to clean up [BP’s] mess.”

“He’s said for a month now that BP will bear the full burden of this disaster,” said Steel.

The “responsibility” Boehner was talking about was not taxpayer money cleaning up the spill. It was whatever reform and restructuring comes after the leak is stopped.

Beutler’s inquiry wasn’t exactly vague: “Do you agree with Tom Donohue of the Chamber that the government and taxpayers should pitch in to clean up the oil spill?” It’s a pretty easy yes-or-no question. Boehner certainly seemed to agree with Donohue’s sentiment, and the answer he gave to reporters is quite a ways from the “clarification” from his office.

Apparently, we’ve begun the phase in which the meaning of the word “responsibility” is parsed.

If Dems stay on the offensive, this will remain a political problem for the GOP.

Update: Speaking of staying on the offensive, Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), issues a statement this afternoon calling on Republicans to explain whether they agree with Boehner or not.

“Leader Boehner just took Republicans’ defense of special interests to a whole new level by saying taxpayers should pay to clean up BP’s mess. This may explain why Republicans have repeatedly blocked Democrats’ attempts to hold BP accountable, and why today they’re trying to hand a $47 billion giveaway to Big Oil.

“Senate Republicans should tell the American people whether they agree with Leader Boehner’s comments. The public deserves to know whether Republicans are going to join Democrats to hold BP accountable, or just continue to protect big oil companies — the same way Republicans have protected big banks and health care companies.”