Last night, Barack Obama promised that he would appoint yet another czar to oversee the federal response to the Gulf disaster. In fact, he’s now got two involved. BP agreed today to establish an escrow account and have it run by a third party — and Obama picked his “pay czar” as its chief trustee:
BP will set aside $20 billion to pay the victims of the massive oil spill in the Gulf, senior administration officials said Wednesday, a move made under pressure by the White House as the company copes with causing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
The independent fund will be led by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw payments to families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In his current role, Feinberg is known as Obama’s “pay czar,” setting salary limits for companies getting the most aid from a $700 billion government bailout fund.
Obama was to announce the deal in a Rose Garden statement later Wednesday after wrapping up a meeting with BP executives at the White House.
So, assuming this gets confirmed in the next few hours, what does that do to a chain of command that is already top-heavy with military commanders, BP execs, another czar, and a national commission? What does Feinberg do about his “pay czar” position?
And what does it say about the Gulf response that Obama apparently doesn’t mind blending it with his bailout management? That might be a bit of a public-relations issue, especially regarding how the Obama administration wanted to get tough with BP. Establishing the escrow fund is not a bad idea as it allows BP to limit the scope of its liability, at least in the short run, but letting BP off the hook for adjustment decisions through an established bailout officer is rather short-sighted, at least politically speaking.
Update: Rep. Michele Bachmann calls this an overreach of Obama’s authority, and questions the executive branch’s interference in the fund:
“Private companies need to be held accountable but not necessarily to the executive branch,” said Bachmann. “It seems to me there’s a misreading of the Constitution and a misunderstanding of jurisdictional limits from this White House on what the extent of executive power is. They don’t seem to understand that and it—now it seems that it’s all about extortion–and that what they want to do is create a pot of money for themselves that they can control and that’s not what the Executive is supposed to do. There is a real misreading of jurisdictional limits, and they continue to stretch those limits beyond all bounds.” …
The conservative from Minnesota said she was particularly bothered by the call President Obama made Monday–later reiterated in his Oval Office address Tuesday night–for BP to set aside money for reimbursements to victims of the Gulf oil spill that would be administered independently, taking control of the money away from the company.
“The president just called for creating a fund that would be administered by outsiders which would be more of a redistribution-of-wealth fund, and now it appears we’re going to be looking at yet one more gateway for more government control, more money to government,” she said. “If there’s a disaster, why is it that government is the one who always seems to benefit after a disaster?”