In Washington, the crisis management pros will often tell you that the “solution is dilution,” meaning that one congressional panel can be a nightmare, but several – especially if you can control one or two – can confuse the issues until the crisis passes.
That will be a key BP tactic as we move into the post-gusher era, so let’s examine the “dueling commissions” on the BP spill.
You may recall that President Obama in May announced, to much fanfare, a hard-hitting bipartisan commission to investigate the spill. The seven-member group is led by former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and Republican former Environmental Protection Agency Director William Reilly. Perfect, go get ’em!
To give the commission real clout, just like similar commissions looking into disasters like Three Mile Island, it will need to compel testimony. Subpoena power can’t be granted by presidents … that requires Congress. No problem. In the House, which voted 420-1 and at least 25 news organizations rubber stamped the idea with “anticipated passage in the Senate.” After all, how could you oppose such a thing with oil spewing unabated into the Gulf?
Well, here’s a clue from The Hill, a newspaper covering Congress: “I would suggest to my Democratic friends that if the shoe were on the other foot, and President Bush was the president and he had submitted a list of names like this to us and everyone was related to the defense of oil companies, we would say this is not fair,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said. “And I’m saying to my colleagues this is not fair.”
So the presidential commission began meetings this week in New Orleans without subpoena power, meaning it has all the clout of a United Nations subcommittee. Nada. The Senate meanwhle decided to create yet another commission (see opening paragraph), with subpoena power. And the House will likely go along – but who really knows?
(BTW, The other members of the presidential commission are: Frances Beinecke, head of the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council; Don Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Terry Garcia of the National Geographic Society; Cherry Murray, dean of the Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and Fran Ulmer, chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage and a former Alaska state legislator.)
And if you want to follow these meetings – I’m not going to call them “hearings” – check out David Hammer at The Times-Picayune, who somehow clings to his objective reporter style while documenting the horror of it all.