Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle said Thursday she was wrong in calling BP oil's $20 billion victims' compensation program "a slush fund," backtracking just hours after her widely criticized remark.
Angle told a Las Vegas radio station on Wednesday that President Obama strong-armed BP executives to set up the fund after the April 20 oil rig explosion that sent gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. The worst oil spill in the nation's history has affected all five Gulf Coast states and scores of businesses, such as fishing and tourism.
Appearing on KXNT, Angle agreed with a caller who said Obama forced BP executives to establish the fund.
"Government shouldn't be doing that to a private company and I think you named it clearly, it's a slush fund," Angle said.
On Thursday, Angle issued a statement saying she was wrong.
"Having had some time to think about it, the caller and I shouldn't have used the term slush fund; that was incorrect," Angle said. "My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step -- BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it."
Her Democratic rival, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, seized on the comment.
"Angle's anti-government rants are entirely consistent with her opposition to the $20 billion escrow account -- a fund designed explicitly to prevent taxpayer bailouts and make BP clean up their own mess -- as well as her position that we should dismantle the EPA in the middle of the worst environmental disaster in American history," said Reid spokesman Kelly Steele.
Angle has previously been forced to backtrack on her suggestion that Washington phase out Social Security and Medicare in favor of private accounts. She now says she favors dedicated Social Security dollars and private accounts.
Angle is not the first Republican to try to take back her words about BP oil.
During hearings last month, Texas Rep. Joe Barton apologized to a BP executive for what he called a "shakedown" of the private company. Republican House leaders immediately issued a statement disagreeing with Barton. Threatened with the loss of his seniority, the Texas lawmaker withdrew his apology.
Obama met with BP executives at the White House last month and emerged from the meeting with a $20 billion commitment from the company to pay fishermen whose businesses were affected and to clean up the Gulf.
BP publicly backed the plan.
"From the outset, we have said that we fully accepted our obligations as a responsible party. This agreement reaffirms our commitment to do the right thing," BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward said when announcing the plan.
During her interview, Angle also said the entire industry shouldn't have to pay for the spill. Only BP is funding the victims' fund.
"Everyone in the petroleum industry shouldn't be penalized for one bad person's actions. It would be like throwing us all in prison because one person committed murder. And that's exactly what's going on here," she said. "It's an overreaction by government for not the right reasons. They're actually using this crisis ... to get in cap and trade and every fine and penalty and slush fund, like you said."
Angle, a former state lawmaker, seemed to suggest the oil industry was regulated by the EPA. Offshore drilling, however, was overseen by the Minerals Management Service, a part of the Interior Department.
"The problem with even the EPA is that it's all about money. It's a taxing, fining agency. What we really needed was a management agency," said Angle.
Angle's remarks were first reported Thursday on The Washington Post's website.