[T]he party that took control of the House chamber two summers ago with a “drill here, drill now” chant is suddenly struggling to find the right pitch on energy policy as the oil spill crisis defies conventional political messaging. […]
…Republicans are now struggling with how to show appropriate outrage at Big Oil while sticking to their long-standing pro-drilling, pro-oil-company policies.
It’s no doubt tricky — the GOP has been allied with oil companies for years — and considering the party’s rhetoric of late, I’m not sure Republicans have decided exactly what point(s) they want to emphasize.
Republicans aren’t satisfied with the Obama administration’s response, but they don’t want the administration to do more or be more aggressive. BP should be held accountable, the GOP believes, but should be protected from excessive accountability and oversight. The existing U.S. energy framework needs work, Republicans argue, but not too much, and certainly not with any policies that would make a significant difference.
One need look no further than House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) confusion last week over lifting the liability cap to realize that the GOP has no idea what it wants to say right now. For a party that prides itself on inflexible message discipline and talking points written in stone, it’s an unusual spectacle.
Even good news is deemed dubious by Republicans. The new $20 billion escrow fund demanded by the White House will help ensure that American taxpayers are not left to pick the tab for the BP oil spill. And yet, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) disapproves of the idea — he’s apparently worried it will undermine BP profits too much — and the perpetually-crazy Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called the escrow “a redistribution-of-wealth fund” that could serve as a “gateway” for “more money to government.”
As a substantive matter, Bachmann’s hysterics are incoherent. But politically, it’s worth keeping an eye on a potential trend — if Republicans position themselves as the party looking out for BP and the oil industry’s interests, there may be political consequences.