MURKOWSKI CARRIES WATER FOR THOSE WHO PUMP OIL…. With the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf getting worse every day, it was tempting to think the “Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act” stood a chance at passage. The measure, pushed by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), would increase the $75 million liability cap for oil spills to $10 billion.

Given what we’ve seen in recent weeks, what politician would want to side with the industry on a bill like this one? Reflecting the ongoing shamelessness of the Senate Republican caucus, one of its members was only too pleased to step up.

Alaska’s senior senator blocked legislation Thursday that would have dramatically increased liability caps on oil companies, in the wake of one of the industry’s biggest disasters.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) objected to a voice vote request by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on the bill… Murkowski said the legislation is “not where we need to be right now” and would unfairly advantage large oil companies by pricing the small companies out of the market. Murkowski did signal that she would be open to “look at the liability cap and consider raising it.” Just not at this moment.

Menendez wasn’t buying it: “The risk is what has to be calculated here. If you drill, you need to be able to pay for the damages.” As for the notion that large oil companies would have an advantage, Menendez explain that we’re not talking about a “mom and pop in the grocery store around the corner” that wants to drill offshore.

He added: “It’s straightforward, it’s common sense. Either you want to fully protect the small businesses, individuals and communities devastated by a man-made disaster — this is not a natural disaster; this is a man-made disaster — or you want to protect multibillion-dollar oil companies from being held fully accountable. Apparently there are some in the Senate who prefer to protect the oil companies.”

As a rule, when there’s a disaster like this one, and the public has no appetite for defending the industry, politicians are afraid to carry companies’ water. But as is usually the case, Republicans are crossing their fingers and hoping that the public doesn’t notice how far they’re willing to go to help their oil industry buddies.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.