Sen. Inhofe objects to measure increasing oil company liability cap

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) stopped Democrats' efforts on Tuesday of passing a measure to increase oil companies' liability for accidents resulting from offshore drilling.

Inhofe objected to a unanimous consent request by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who took a second stab Tuesday at passing the bill in an expedited way.

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Menendez tried Tuesday morning to pass, by unanimous consent, his bill to increase the liability cap for oil companies' offshore drilling accidents to $10 billion, up from the current $75 million cap. 

Inhofe objected, saying that it was important to calibrate the amount by which the cap should be raised, pointing out that President Barack Obama hasn't even yet set a hard figure. Inhofe also said that raising the cap by such a drastic amount would hurt independent oil producers, since all but the largest oil companies could weather such a large liability cap.

But Menendez said at a press conference Tuesday that the GOP was just using that line of argument as pretext.

"We just saw on the floor again an objection to standing up to big oil and standing with the taxpayer," he said. "This is really about 'who's side do you stand on?' We got the answer, they are standing on the side of the big oil companies."

The move was the New Jersey senator's second attempt at attaching the provision to the Wall Street reform bill, a provision crafted in response to the massive and continued spill from a BP-leased rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

He said that he would continue to offer unanimous consent requests until senators figure out a way to hold a vote on the measure. 

Menendez offered last week another unanimous consent request — meaning that senators automatically adopt the measure without a formal vote — but he was met with an objection by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Gulf-state Republican senators have introduced their own separate legislation, which would also seek to increase the liability cap.

The New Jersey Democrat said that his colleagues are going to discuss proposing legislation that creates unlimited liability for oil companies that cause spills; a measure that would be much harsher than the $10 billion limit. 

Jordan Fabian contributed to this post

This article was first posted at 9:12 a.m. and updated at 10:38 a.m.