Obama pumps up pressure on BP 

Angered by reports that BP is slow-walking claims from Gulf Coast fishermen and others, the White House warned the oil giant not to "nickel-and-dime" the process.

"If they're going to spend $50 million on ad campaigns, then we certainly shouldn't hear about claims that aren't being paid," said press secretary Robert Gibbs. "They shouldn't nickel-and-dime on a claims process involving economic damages."

BP stock value continued its plunge as lawmakers and the White House stepped up calls for the oil giant to honor financial claims from Gulf Coast businesses.

The company says it so far has paid $84 million to more than 14,000 individuals and businesses for losses through June, in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

In all, BP estimates its total payout for the April 20 collapse of the Deepwater Horizon rig is $1.43 billion, including containment, various efforts to cap the well, claims and other costs.

"The claims process has been running since the very beginning and we've tried to get money into people's hands quickly," BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles told CBS News. "I think something like over half the claims have already been paid."

But the White House, showcasing an increasing level of disgust at the conduct of BP, warned the company to step up.

"You know, one of the things we heard was most of the major claims, most of the small businesses and certainly even some of the bigger businesses, those claims have not been dealt with," Gibbs said.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers met with Obama and vowed afterward to keep pressure on BP, as well. Company Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward is set to be in Washington next week to testify before Congress.

"Every taxpayer in America must know that BP will be held accountable for what is owed," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after meeting with the president.

Some Republicans, however, have expressed caution at overzealously estimating BP's liability threshold, while worrying that Democrats may use the crisis as a wedge to push an energy tax.

Current law holds oil companies to a liability cap of $75 million. Several bills in Congress are seeking to lift that cap, either across the board or just for BP. Critics argue that lifting the cap would force smaller oil companies out of business.

Obama met privately at the White House on Thursday with family members of the 11 victims who died when the deep-water rig exploded and collapsed off the coast of Louisiana.

"He will tell the families that he is committed to working with Congress to ensure that any disparity in the law is addressed and that families receive due compensation," Gibbs said.

It was unclear whether Obama will meet with Hayward next week. The White House, in trying to show it's on top of the disaster response, has distanced itself from any appearance of cooperation with BP.

Gibbs said a meeting isn't scheduled but hasn't been ruled out. Obama in other cases, notably with prominent bankers, has used such meetings to deliver semipublic woodsheddings.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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