Only two days after the White House said that the President would veto the Senate version of an energy bill that substantially raises the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and sets the same standard for trucks as for cars, one of the most prominent liberal Democrats has openly rebelled against the measure and its prime mover, Senate Majority Leader Reid of Nevada.
Carl Levin, a Senator from Michigan and normally an ally of Reid, has been rounding up Democratic opposition to the Senate bill. Levin opposed the measure was when it was adopted by the Senate in July. But House Energy Committee Chairman John Dingell, another Democrat from Michigan, was more successful in the House of Representatives. He killed the CAFE standard outright. In order to get an energy bill through the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi ultimately let the bill go to the floor with no fuel economy provision.
Last week, however, Pelosi and Reid pulled the bill from a conference committee in an effort to insert the Senate CAFE standards into the final bill.
Levin isn’t buying that stunt. One of the demands which will be made in his letter is the return of the measure to conference committee. He also wants separate standards for trucks and cars and a longer-time line for meeting new standards, as well as a credit against the standards for building alternate fuel vehicles.
In a bizarre twist, Pelosi says that it’s the Republicans who are to blame for blocking the Senate bill. While Republicans have opposed the Senate bill, it was Pelosi’s unwillingness to accept the lower mileage standard increase supported by Dingell that led to the impasse in the House which resulted in no fuel economy provision at all being adopted there. She insisted on all or nothing – and got nothing.
Reid and Pelosi may now have made a serious tactical mistake by pulling the bill from conference committee. In so doing, they’ve created a new issue, one that has nothing to do with the merits of the legislation, but one that does impinge on the powers and privileges of the Senate members. Senator are accustomed to be able to exercise significant influence in conference committees over legislation which originated in a committee on which they sit. While Reid has pulled similar stunts a few times in the past to circumvent Republican opposition, he’s never before used it to make an end-run around a committee chairman from his own party, as he has done with Dingell this time. That move is likely to give pause to other Democrats in the Senate because it threatens their own power over other legislation.