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Senators Spar On Subpoenas, Liability Caps

As top officials from the administration and BP took to Capitol Hill this morning to talk about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Senate Democrats put on a show to score more political points in the spill's aftermath.

Senate Democrats twice tried to get unanimous approval to remove all liability caps that BP and other oil companies would face for the gulf spill and future spills, and to give subpoena power to a bipartisan commission President Obama has created to come up with safety and oversight recommendations for deepwater oil and gas drilling.

"It is unacceptable for BP and the other companies responsible for this oil spill to continue to stonewall the American people, and I don't understand why my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are objecting to this," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said in bringing up the plan to grant the commission subpoena power. "I would assume that they're as interested in getting to the bottom of this disaster as the rest of us are."

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., tried for the fourth time to get unanimous approval for lifting oil company liability caps.

Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe of Oklahoma was the obligatory Republican in charge of objecting to both requests. He said he agreed with Shaheen's arguments in favor of subpoena power but that Majority Leader Harry Reid has given Democratic leaders until July 4 to offer up a host of recommendations for dealing with the spill. "I think we should give that process an opportunity to work," he said.

Republicans have also been arguing that Democrats have been trying to arbitrarily raise oil spill liability limits.

Meanwhile, beyond that particular political theater is this morning's hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations panel featuring testimony from BP CEO Tony Hayward, his first since the April 20 explosion of the company-run Deepwater Horizon rig.

And Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, is giving a closed-door briefing to House and Senate lawmakers on the latest in the spill response effort in the Capitol Visitor Center this morning.