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The curse of Bush

By Kate Sheppard

The Obama administration has faced harsh criticism for its oversight of offshore oil and gas development in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The most absurd commentary, of course, comes from Republicans who have consistently pushed back against any attempts to regulate industry for years. The administration has been fighting back, but no one wants to actually call the problem by its name: the Bush administration.

At a House hearing Wednesday, Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) accused Salazar of "harping on what MMS did or didn't do in the previous administration. "Why aren't we talking about the here and now?" asked Lamborn.

Salazar shot back about the efforts they've taken to reform the beleaguered agency. "Unlike the prior administration, this is not the candy store for the oil and gas kingdom that you and others were a part of," he deadpanned. At another point in the hearing, he pointed out, again without naming names, that an official at the department was sent to federal prison for obstruction of justice under the previous administration. (That would be Steven Griles, a deputy secretary at the department from 2001 to 2004).

On Thursday, when MMS head Elizabeth Birnbaum was pushed out of her post as head of the Minerals Management Service, her statement pointed back to the Bush administration, again without naming it directly, for leaving the MMS a deeply dysfunctional institution when she took over last July. She said that she hopes the reforms that Salazar has proposed for the agency "will resolve the flaws in the current system that I inherited."

It happened again Thursday when Obama made reference the past decade of cozy relations between industry and regulators. Eight of those years, of course, were under Bush. That was also when the porn, meth, and oil parties were happening in Lake Charles, La., office and the sex, coke, and oil parties were happening in the Lakewood, Colo., office. In fact, if you look at all the failures at MMS that may have contributed to this disaster, the vast majority happened under Bush.

It's not that the Obama administration MMS has been blameless. There was, of course, the lack of environmental analysis on the gulf well and the pitiful review of BP's oil spill response "plan." There was also a less-than-flattering piece on Birnbaum in the New York Times this week. It didn't paint her as an active problem at the agency, however, but rather gave the impression that she wasn't up to the task of reforming such a screwed up division. From what folks who know her have told me, she was well intentioned, if significantly unprepared for the job.

So Republican badgering of the administration over the issue is fairly absurd. Fixing the troubled agency was one of the very first things Salazar sought to address after taking office, announcing a restructuring of MMS's royalty-in-kind program, calling for a Justice Department investigation, and instating a new conduct code for the agency in the first days after taking office.

The Obama Department of Interior could have done more, of course, to improve the beleaguered agency. But the root of this is still the one name they won't say: George W. Bush.

Kate Sheppard covers energy and environmental politics in Mother Jones's Washington bureau. For more of her stories, see here, and you can follow her on Twitter here.

By Washington Post editor  |  May 28, 2010; 9:35 AM ET
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This idea was also pushed in the House Judiciary Committee yesterday when Rep. Steve Cohen railed against what he called the Bush-Cheney-Halliburton government.

Posted by: CFU2010 | May 28, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

While Republicans are still blaming Bill Clinton for everything from dandruff to the housing crisis, they insist that the 8 years of the Bush administration had no lasting impact on anything. Really?

Taking a surplus and turning it into a 1 Trillion Dollar deficit by funding two wars (off the books, of course) one of which made no sense whatsoever? Letting Dick Cheney and his energy industry buddies write the "regulations" that directly led to this disaster?

Wake up people! These jerks mugged us, robbed us and left us for dead in a ditch, and now they want to get back into power to finish the job, because they haven't finished looting the public treasury for their private gain.

The current administration has had less than two years to clean up the Bush disasters. With Republicans obstructing every inch of progress, including "silent holds" on appointees and bills. Hypocrites!

Posted by: WarriorGrrl | May 28, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

WarriorGrrl, your comments are totally right on, except for the last word -- they're not hypocrites, they're cold, calculating, lying opportunists.

The hypocrisy creeps in when they moralize about social issues/sex.

But the campaign of attack happening now against Interior sounds exactly like a Luntz scripted smear campaign (see Health Care or FinReg for the power of Frank Luntz to define the conservative message in a swirl of lies and buzz words).

Hypocrisy is far to gentle a term. Reprobate liars is about right, in my mind.

Posted by: RalfW | May 28, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Republicans have been chomping at the bit for the moment they could declare that every problem in the country is no longer attributable to President Bush and instead is Obama's problem. Of course, the reason the presidency is so powerful is not only because they have great control over the immediate day-to-day events of their administration, but they shape and guide the federal government in ways that have effects for decades to come. Appointing federal judges, structuring federal agencies, and implementing regulations have long-term impacts on the country. Does this absolve sitting presidents from responsibility for things that happen on their watch? Of course not, but we shouldn't pretend that every president builds the government from scratch or is able to change every thing about the government that they've inherited and may not like.

Posted by: MosBen | May 28, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

it is heartbreakingly disturbing to me, that this crisis fell on obama's watch, and not in the bush-cheney years....
their administration was awash in oil.
and i imagine that their portfolios will profit greatly from their holdings in the contracting companies that will be cleaning up the spill.
sometimes, it feels like if you listen closely enough, you can hear the devil laughing in the background.
it made me sad yesterday, to see barack obama looking so beleaguered. nothing is perfect, mistakes are made.
but the kind of arrogance and malevolence that one saw in the bush-cheney years are light years removed from the presidency of barack obama.
barack obama has a conscience. and that makes all of the difference.

Posted by: jkaren | May 28, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Even though I'm a big Obama supporter, I am feeling grim about the crisis and quite frankly his handling of it. Don't forget this is just one of many such deep water rigs off the coast. How many other disasters are just waiting to happen?

I feel that Obama's ecumenical approach-is this from his days of community organizing ("let's pull together and work together to fix this")- is falling short. What happened to "don't let a crisis go to waste." We thought this was going to be the Anthem Blue Cross moment for energy and climate change, but the only time he's dared mention anything close to that is on the Left Coast. Why can't get just declare that off shore drilling has too few benefits (not a lot of oil), and way too high costs?

The President is the expression of the people's power. The CEO of BP should be SHAKING in his boots; he should be sparing NO EXPENSE to get this fixed. He should have Plan B, Plan C, Plan D locked and loaded and ready to go. He should've told the truth about the actual flow early on; he should be ready to fall on a thousand swords to get this fixed. And I don't get the feeling he is.

Frankly, he reminds me of Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman).

Obama allowed big pharma and insurance write parts of HCR; FinReg is pretty defanged. Is there any reason why this will be any different?

That's why I feel grim.

Posted by: Lonepine | May 28, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Is there anything liberals won't blame on Bush? Obama has been in charge for 16 months, the Democrats have run Congress since 2006, and we're STILL hearing about how all these problems are George Bush's fault. Grow a set, stand up like adults, and take some responsibility for Pete's sake. With regard to Obama, for a guy who got elected on "changing the tone in Washington," he and his supporters sure spends a lot of time blaming his "predecessor" when things don't go their way.

Posted by: rickbrownell | May 28, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I am surprised that you have not commented on the Sestak situation. The White House is up to its eyeballs in tampering with the primary in PA. I wonder why you have chosed to give them a pass now that the link (Emanuel) has been outed!


Posted by: my4653 | May 28, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

"...the Democrats have run Congress since 2006..."

This is asserted repeatedly on this blog, but it is not true. The Democrats took over ONE house of Congress in 2007 (House of Reps), Bush continued to enjoy a Republican majority in the Senate until he left office in 2009.

With that out of the way, I do think that while the culture inside MMS that Salazar inherited was Bush's fault, more could have been done during the past year to reform the agency, institute tougher regulatory practices, and write and enforce new and tougher regulations.

I likewise fault Obama for his decision to expand offshore drilling, and his public statements that the activity can be done safely. And, as jkaren has pointed out for weeks, the communication from the administration to the public since the explosion has been inadequate.

I appreciate the fact that Obama admitted yesterday he was wrong in his expectation that industry was prepared to deal with the worst case scenario. But I wish that he would also admit that he was wrong to open up more coastline, and that (whatever may have been taking place behind the scenes) his adminstration has done a poor job of communicating with the public.

Like jkaren and other fair observers, I think Obama deserves the public's sympathy for the fact that his administration is largely about cleaning up the mess that he inherited. But it is a job that he asked us to give him, and when the job is done deficiently, it is only right to say so.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 28, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse


You are off-topic, and this blog had a post about the Sestak faux controversy yesterday:

Why do you trolls think it is useful to say things that are so obviously untrue?

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 28, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

So, tell me, Ezra - has anyone ferreted out the moles that Cheney planted in most of the agencies involved with oil? Or is that Obama's fault as well? Bush signed a number of his appointees into permanent government jobs, so they would not need to resign - they could just keep on keeping on doing what they have always done. Expose that, if you can.

Posted by: Figerre1 | May 28, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

"The administration has been fighting back, but no one wants to actually call the problem by its name: the Bush administration."

Oh, please do. Please, please, please do.

"In fact, if you look at all the failures at MMS that may have contributed to this disaster, the vast majority happened under Bush."

And Bush flipped a switch, or a signed a law, that made it all possible? It was a noble and upstanding organization until the moment Bill Clinton left the office?

And, yeah, why aren't the Republicans blaming themselves, and pointing out all the things they did wrong, in an election year? I can't figure it out.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | May 28, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

@WarriorGrrl: "While Republicans are still blaming Bill Clinton for everything from dandruff to the housing crisis, they insist that the 8 years of the Bush administration had no lasting impact on anything. Really?"

We also blame Jimmy Carter. And Barney Frank. And Chris Dodd. And I think there's a lot of blame to be heaped upon Richard Nixon, but maybe that's just me.

Of course the Bush administration had a lasting impact. The, "oh, come on, you're guy has been in charge since . . . " is a political tactic, because the more the current administration blames problems on the problems they inherited (instead of sidestepping blame entirely), the weaker they look. So, unsurprisingly, critics of the president and Republicans are trying to get the Obama administration, and its defenders, to spend as much time blaming everything on Bush as possible.

Every time an administration person blames a situation on "what they inherited" a congressional Democrat somewhere loses a vote.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | May 28, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

@MosBen: "Republicans have been chomping at the bit for the moment they could declare that every problem in the country is no longer attributable to President Bush and instead is Obama's problem."

Otherwise known as inauguration day. Can you believe all the things that went wrong in this country in the first few minutes after Obama was sworn in? Amazing!

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | May 28, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

["Why aren't we talking about the here and now?" asked Lamborn.]

We are, Mr. Representative. And in the here and now, this disaster is the direct consequence of the Bush administration's corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement. It wasn't Obama who approved this rig. It wasn't Obama who ignored the need for remote acoustic shutoff switches. It wasn't Obama who corrupted the MMS. It wasn't Obama who spent eight years downplaying the need for regulations and oversight of the oil industry.

Posted by: edta | May 28, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

it is heartbreakingly disturbing to me, that this crisis fell on obama's watch, and not in the bush-cheney years....
their administration was awash in oil.

Posted by: jkaren | May 28, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I'm going to assume you mis-spoke here and would have rather wished it not happened at all. You don't seem like the kind to hate and that rant was full of hate. Its a shame you seem to have been driven to that.

Posted by: visionbrkr | May 28, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

and while you can make a fairly reasonable assumption to blame Bush for the fault of being there I'm thinking there's no way any somewhat sane liberal can blame the response on Bush can they??

take it Lom!!

Posted by: visionbrkr | May 28, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Lets take a look at the opposite scenario of what happened:

Suppose if Obama, just after taking office, during the financial crisis and problems in the Middle East, he found time to look at the regulation of deep-water oil drilling and found it wanting. Suppose he did what people now say he should have done and closed down all the wells until there was better oversight and a disaster relief plan.

The right wing and middle WOULD HAVE PILLORIED OBAMA! He would have been called a tree hugger intent on increasing our dependence on foreign oil! Experts would come forward saying that new technology has made sea oil drilling even safer. The gulf state governors would accuse him of trying to ruin their state’s economy! The “drill baby drill” crowd would go apoplectic!

AND, of course, there would not be a blow out and thus no proof he was right.

Posted by: erik1 | May 28, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

It's fine for Mother Jones to blame Bush; their readers expect no less. Politically, though, Obama owns this issue and will get whatever credit or blame ultimately comes from it.

Posted by: tomtildrum | May 28, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

"So, tell me, Ezra - has anyone ferreted out the moles...?"

...or moled out the ferrets?

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 28, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

"I'm going to assume you mis-spoke here and would have rather wished it not happened at all. "

oh, for heaven's sakes, there is not a sane human being who isnt hearbroken over this spill, and i do believe that you have read my comments long enough, to know that that.
but i do feel that bush and cheney were awash in oil, malfeasance, arrogance, malevolence....and had this had to happen, they should be bearing responsibility for it, and not barack obama.
they were men of no conscience.
and they will probably stand to make money off of this disaster also.
and i think you know exactly what i meant.

Posted by: jkaren | May 28, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

"there is not a sane human being who isnt hearbroken over this spill, and i do believe that you have read my comments long enough, to know that that."


If vsionbrkr does not know that, he is not reading the words that you say.

Anyone who does read your comments will know that you have expressed nothing but genuine grief about the torrent of oil polluting the Gulf, and that you have been an early and constant critic of the inadequate communication from the Obama administration during the weeks since the explosion, as oil continued to gush.

"Hateful rant"? Give me a break, visionbrkr. Anyone who seriously thinks it is hateful to make note of the irony that the rig exploded the year after the Bush-Cheney administration (and its notoriously incestuous relations with big oil) left town...well...apparently that person sees Bush-Cheney as a sacred cow or is blind to irony. I think you were just being snarky, but came up short in the humor department.

It is equally ironic (karma?) that the rig exploded within days of Obama's opening up more coastline and proclaiming drilling in the sea to be safe.

To talk about either irony is not hateful.

Keep posting, jkaren.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 28, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

thank you.
hope there is peace, beauty and happiness
in your weekend.

Posted by: jkaren | May 28, 2010 10:35 PM | Report abuse

and to you as well, jkaren -


Posted by: Patrick_M | May 29, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

Just wondering if this disaster would of happened 16 months after Bush took office would anyone be blaming Bill Clinton? It is amazing to me how much hatred that some of you posters have for President Bush. It is clouding your judgement and is not healthy.

Posted by: cummije5 | May 29, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse


...right...almost as unhealthy as all of the Republicans who attempted to lay the blame for 9/11 on Bill Clinton. That's what happens when bad things happen on the watch of a new President.

The explosion and the resulting leak of oil from the well are the fault of BP. The very poor regulatory oversight of offshore drilling are the fault of decades of government failures to restrict offshore drilling and to tightly oversee the safety and ensure rapid disaster response for the drilling that has been allowed. It so happens that Bush-Cheney were there for 8 of the last 9 & 1/3 years, Deepwater Horizon was built in 2001, so the rule making and oversight at MMS during the majority of the history of the rig's operations are going to be discussed. A lot.

The top kill fix has now failed, what is important now is what happens looking forward.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 29, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

In May/2001, after Cheney's energy conference, which was called to set the national energy policy, two executive orders were issued. 1. Agencies are required to file a "Statement of Energy Effects" before undertaking any regulatory actions 2. Agencies are ordered to expedite permits for energy related prejects. Loosely translated, it says get ot of the way and let energy companies do whatever they want.

Posted by: RuEb10 | May 30, 2010 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Open your eyes, you left-wing Obama lovers. He put a woman in charge of overseeing the oil drillers -- who was and is not capable of overseeing anything more complex than changing diapers maybe. She admitted when she was forced to resign that she had not been able to "enforce" the so-called new rules for drillers, or to adapt fast enough. Sounds to me that the non-executive, Obama, made many non-executive appointments for executive level positions. Bush had nothing to do with Ms. Birnbaum, Obama and his henchmen made this grevious mistake. Now we learn that BP had discussed a problem with the well that blew up six weeks prior to the big explosion that killed 11 people. Or maybe it was President Truman's fault because in 1948, he said that "The buck stops here," so I guess Mr. Truman was the problem. And Ms. Kate Shepherd, get your resume up to date because the way WaPo is losing circulation they can't last long; it will be on the block like your sister pub, Newsweek. Maybe you can get a job with the Dem party officials -- they owe you.

Posted by: RonKH | June 1, 2010 12:23 AM | Report abuse

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