On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter’s threat to block a pay raise to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar until his departments returns to issuing deepwater drilling permits at the same rate it did before the BP oil spill “inappropriate coercion.”
“[I]t is wrong for Sen. Vitter to try to get something in return for moving forward on a matter that the Senate has considered routine for more than a century,” said Reid in a statement. “Ken Salazar is extremely well-qualified, hard-working cabinet secretary, and deserves better than to be strong armed while trying to do an important job for the American people.”
The legislation in question would give Salazar a raise of $19,600 a year, putting his pay on par with other Cabinet secretaries. He currently makes $180,100.
Vitter announced his stance Monday in a letter he sent to Salazar, saying, “Given the completely unsatisfactory pace of your department’s issuance of new deepwater exploratory permits in the Gulf, I cannot possibly give my assent” to the pay raise.
For his part, Salazar responded to Vitter’s letter by accusing the Gulf Coast senator of “attempted coercion.”
“[A] member of the Senate has taken the position, in writing, that his vote on the issue is dependent upon the outcome of his attempted coercion of public acts here at the department,” the secretary wrote in his letter to Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“That position is wrong,” the letter continued, “and it must be made perfectly clear that his attempt cannot and will not affect the execution of the solemn legal responsibilities that the department undertakes on behalf of the American people.”
Since the BP oil spill last year and the resulting moratorium on drilling, Salazar has been a consistent thorn in the side of many lawmakers who are pushing the Interior Department to begin issuing new permits. The secretary even fought, and won, a court order compelling the department to act on certain permits within a 30-day timeframe.
According to The Hill, there have been 14 permits issued in the past several months, but only one was for a project that had not been halted in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
UPDATE: From Vitter’s spokesperson Luke Bolar: “I urge the Obama administration to prosecute–they’ll make fools of themselves in court and make my boss a Louisiana folk hero at the same time.”