Push to empower Obama's spill panel fails again

October 01, 2010

A fourth attempt to give President Barack Obama's oil spill commission more power to compel witnesses to testify was blocked on Wednesday, even as the Senate prepares to adjourn until after November's elections.

The bill would give the President's 7-member National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill the ability to subpoena witnesses, raising the possibility of shedding more light on the causes of the spill.

The co-chairs of the commission said on Tuesday that the investigation was being hurt by a lack of subpoena power.

The commission is also responsible for making recommendations that could alter offshore drilling policy to reduce the possibility of a future spill.

The subpoena dispute is part of a political battle, which involves the panel's duty to make recommendations on offshore drilling policy for years to come. Republicans have previously proposed the creation of a separate Congressionally appointed commission to perform a similar function.http://img.ibtimes.com/www/site/us/images/1px.gif

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, a commission member, asked her colleagues on the Senate floor on Wednesday to approve the measure through an expedited process that would approve a previously passed bill in the House. 

H.R. 5481, a subpoena power bill which passed in the House on June 23, was approved overwhelmingly in a 420 to 1 vote.

Shaheen's request may have been approved on Wednesday had she agreed to include the "Barrasso amendment" - Senate bill 3516 - which would establish the Congressionally appointed commission. She did not agree to the measure.

Shaheen had previously shown a willingness to establish the other panel when, as a member of the Senate's Energy Committee, she voted on June 30 for the amendment by Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY.

However, Sen. Shaheen's spokesman said Thursday that the timing of the proposed amendment on Wednesday amounted to a "poison pill."

"Senator Shaheen has also been a supporter of the Barrasso Commission, however since many members of the Senate have not yet had an opportunity to review Senator Barrasso's legislation, that proposal is nothing more than a poison pill at this time," said spokesman Dan Jasnow. "With the National Commission due to report its findings in a matter of weeks, we cannot afford any further delay."

According to the executive order establishing the commission, the panel has six months from the start of its first meeting to report to the President with its findings and options for consideration. The commission first met on July 12.

The Barrasso amendment would charge the Democratic and Republican leadership to name a 10-person commission while President Obama would be allowed to name only the chairman.

The President's commission currently includes 7  of his appointees. It is co-chaired by former Sen. Bob Graham D-FL, and William Reilly, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush.

By:  Gerald Helguero
Source: International Business Times