Tony Hayward: Lucky for Him, Everyone's Talking About Joe Barton

Julie Marsh
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I hope Tony Hayward took Joe Barton out for a beer last night. Actually, I hope he took him out for an extravagant 10-course meal, complete with a couple bottles of Cristal and a lap dance afterward.

Yesterday, the CEO of BP -- Tony Hayward -- reported to Capitol Hill for a hearing in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. I wouldn't have blamed the man for popping a Xanax or two beforehand; he's not exactly Mr. Popularity with either political party right now, let alone the public at large.

But thanks to Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), nobody's talking about what Tony Hayward had to say in the hearing. Instead, we're all aghast at Barton's apology to Hayward.

From The Huffington Post to FOXNews, most of the post-hearing reporting concerns Barton's statement and the subsequent rebuke by his fellow Republicans. It's unsure whether he'll retain his committee seniority in spite of retracting his apology.

What exactly did he say? CBS reports:

"I apologize," Barton told Hayward. "I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure that is -- again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize."

The so-called "shakedown" referenced by Barton is the $20B escrow fund that serves as insurance that BP will pay for damages associated with the Gulf disaster. The White House initiated and brokered the deal, though BP's website proudly proclaims "BP Establishes $20 Billion Claims Fund for Deepwater Horizon Spill."

Kind of ironic that BP's taking credit for it while a Congressman is apologizing to BP for it.

I've got a mortgage. Every month I make a mortgage payment. Part of that payment goes toward my principal -- what I owe on the assessed value of my home at the time I got the mortgage. Part of that payment goes toward interest -- what the bank charges to loan me money. And part of that payment goes toward escrow -- a fund that insures I will pay my property taxes and homeowner's insurance, because the money comes out of there.

The $20B BP fund is very similar. BP is responsible for paying into it so that claims can be paid out of it. It's not a shakedown. In fact, it helps BP do the right thing -- take financial responsibility for a disaster that was ultimately its fault -- without the threat of being swayed by stockholders. Because sometimes stockholders get screwed when a company does something stupid (see also: Enron).

There's another reason Barton's apology to Hayward comprises the meat of the post-hearing reporting: Hayward's testimony was thoroughly unenlightening. He doesn't know, he doesn't recall, and he wasn't involved, but he's really terribly sorry and "personally devastated."

Tony? You're the CEO. That means you're in charge -- for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Even if you didn't know all the details when the explosion took place, you really ought to have brushed up on them over the past six weeks. Lots of people, especially Congress, have questions for you, and they expect you to have the answers.

Those are reasonable expectations. Start living up to them.

Image via cliff1066/Flickr

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