Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, the President will speak to the American people from the Oval Office tonight about a crisis in the gulf that is now in its ninth week. If early reports are accurate, the President will use his remarks not as an occasion to unite the Nation in a common effort to solve the immediate problem but to make his case for a new national energy tax commonly known as cap and trade. If true, this means the President plans to use this justifiable public outrage over an explosion that killed 11 people and the oilspill that followed as a tool for pushing a divisive new climate change policy even as hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil continue to spill into the gulf each day.
Most Americans are baffled by all this. The crisis, as they see it, is a broken pipe at the bottom of the ocean, miles-long oil slicks, and threatened coastlines. The first thing they want to know is what the administration plans to do to plug the leak, clean up the oil, and mitigate the spill's effects on the livelihoods of those affected. Yet day after day, as the oil continues to flow, what we hear from the administration is how tough they plan to be with BP and now, apparently, how important it is that we institute a new tax which will raise energy costs for every single American but which will do absolutely nothing to plug the leak. Never has a mission statement fit an administration as perfectly as Rahm Emanuel's ``never allow a crisis to go to waste.'' Climate change policy is important, but first things first.
Americans are saying two things at the moment: Stop this spill and clean it up. So with all due respect to the White House, the wetlands of the bayou, the beaches of the coast, and our waters in the gulf are far more important than the status of the Democrats' legislative agenda here in Washington. Americans want us to stop the oilspill first, and until this leak is plugged, they are not in any mood to hand over even more power in the form of a new national energy tax to a government that, so far at least, hasn't lived up to their expectations in its response to this crisis.
Republicans are happy to have an energy debate. Like most Americans, we support an all-of-the-above agenda that seeks to produce more American energy and use less. But while American livelihoods are in immediate danger and we watch oil gush into our waters and wash up on our beaches, now is not the time to push ideology; it is the time to fix the problem.
But if the White House insists on using this event as an opportunity to push the same kind of government-driven agenda that got us the health care bill, then they will need to answer some questions. Since the outset of this crisis, they have clearly been more focused on identifying a scapegoat than in taking charge. But questions persist about the administration's response. Here are just a few:
First, the administration acknowledges that it took BP at its word early on about its ability to respond to a crisis such as this. The question is, Why? Why? Why did the Minerals Management Service under this administration accept BP's word that it was prepared to deal with a worst-case spill such as the one we are now experiencing in the gulf?
Second, why were the inspections MMS performed on the Deepwater Horizon, and presumably on other rigs as well, unable to detect the problems that eventually became so apparent? What changes need to be made to make these inspections effective?
Third, the law requires the President to ensure the effective cleanup of an oilspill when it occurs. Specifically, it requires the President to have a national contingency plan in place, and that plan is supposed to provide for sufficient personnel and equipment to clean up a spill. Clearly, the administration's National Contingency Plan was not up to the task. Why not? Did it rely too much on the oil companies to perform the cleanup?
Also, why, as has been widely reported, has the administration been slow to accept offers of assistance from countries that have offered skimming vessels and other technologies to help clean up the spill? Since the cleanup is clearly not going as planned, shouldn't we be accepting legitimate offers of assistance wherever we can get them?
The first priority, as I have said, is plugging the leak. Then we must turn our attention to questions such as these and to a thorough investigation of what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon and how we can prevent anything like it from ever, ever happening again. That will be a monumental, months-long job, as there were so many failures at so many levels. Once that process begins, perhaps the administration can work to unite the country in the aftermath of this crisis in a way that, frankly, it has failed to do up to now.
Legislation to respond to this oilspill should be an opportunity for genuine bipartisan cooperation of the kind the President so frequently says he wants and of the kind that has been sorely needed and sorely lacking in the midst of this calamity.
Madam President, I yield the floor.