Lawmakers want to make sure BP pays

A brown pelican coated in heavy oil wallows in the surf on East Grand Terre Island, La.

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Kai Ryssdal: President Obama has clearly taken a wait-and-see approach to the oil leak in the Gulf. On a trip to Louisiana today the president said that despite BP's newly installed top hat on the well-head, it's way to early to be optimistic. BP says it's collecting some oil from the leak. The Coast Guard puts it at about a thousand barrels a day.

Meanwhile those live cams keep showing brownish goo spilling out into the water. Tar balls began washing ashore in Florida today, and politicians are scrambling to come up with ever more creative ways to punish BP and the industry.

From Washington, Brett Neely has more.


BRETT NEElY: Life could get a lot tougher for BP and the oil industry. President Obama wants to end billions of dollars worth of tax breaks for oil exploration. Many in Congress want to scrap the $75 million liability cap per oil spill. And one congressman wants BP to pay royalties on the spilled oil, just like it does on oil they sell.

But none of this is punishment, says Dan Weiss at the liberal Center for American Progress.

DAN WEISS: It's making sure that BP and other similar oil companies pay for the damages they cause.

Weiss wants the government to collect enough money to cover those damages. He says BP is on track to make $20 billion this year. So it wouldn't hurt the company to put its first quarter profit of $5 billion into a special fund to compensate victims of the spill.

WEISS: We're not talking about harming a mom-and-pop grocery store. These oil companies are some of the largest companies in America.

Norm Ornstein is at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. He says some of the proposals are just posturing. But Congress is looking for money anywhere it can find it.

NORM ORNSTEIN: Let's face it. One of the things going on here is that it's not an easy thing at this time to talk about tax increases. That's a toxic element in our political dialogue. But it's a lot easier to talk about squeezing taxes out of oil companies right now.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now says he plans to fast track a new climate and energy bill.

Ornstein thinks the longer the leak continues, the tougher the legislation could end up being.

In Washington, I'm Brett Neely for Marketplace.

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