Without making any of the changes demanded by the Administration, the House of Representatives yesterday passed by a vote of 235 to 181, the energy bill that, among other things, mandates a 35 mpg fuel economy standard by 2020.
But, from there, the measure’s future is less than certain, despite the surrender of Detroit and Toyota to the liberal wing of the Democratic party in the House. The bill is considered certain to face a filibuster in the Senate, and it is doubtful that the Senate’s Democrat leadership have the votes to cut-off that filibuster.
Opposition to the bill centers around the “windmill provision” that would require renewable energy be used for 15% of the out put of utility companies and upon tax increases on domestic oil and gas production.
Republican representatives criticized the measure as imposing mandates that inevitably will lead to higher energy prices and will do nothing to reduce dependency on foreign energy, as the House bill does nothing to increase domestic production of oil or gas and the tax increases actually penalize it.
Should the bill pass the Senate, it now appears that a Presidential veto is pretty much a given. Yesterday, the White House press secretary called the bill “misguided and unacceptable.” He said the Democrat proposal “would raise taxes and increase energy prices for Americans. That is a misguide approach and if it made it to the presidents desk he would veto it.”
That is the most blunt statement from the White House about the bill, to date. Earlier statements have threatened a veto, but not quite that forcefully and have not been as directly a statement of the President’s personal intention.
The bill is expected to come up for Senate consideration before it adjourns next week. Due to the renewable energy and tax provisions, which are opposed by Southeastern senators and those from coal producing states, the Senate leadership isn’t sure that it can even cut-off debate on the bill, at least in its current form.
For these reasons, it is beginning to appear probable that the Democrats cannot get an energy bill in this session unless they remove the tax increase and the alternative fuels provisions. Both now ensure a veto by the President, even should the get through the Senate. The bill did not pass in the House by anything close to the vote that would be required to override a veto. So, if these provisions stay in and the President holds true to his expressed intent, the bill is doomed.
But it probably won’t get to the President’s desk in its current form. Senate opponents of the bill have already staked out the ground that the measure raises consumer costs. In the dead of winter, when people are paying heating bills, that position will have sufficient resonance with the public to ensure that enough Democrat senators stand up to Senate Leader Harry Reid to prevent “cloture,” the cutting off of debate that requires 60 votes to achieve.
If the measure doesn’t pass, it is likely that the House Democrats would prefer to shuck the whole thing, hoping to gain more seats and the presidency in next year’s elections, in preference to passing the legislation with the tax increase and alternative energy mandates removed.
Where does this leave the automakers?
The victims of self-inflicted wounds.
The Detroit automakers and Toyota – Nissan cowered long ago – surrendered in a battle that they could have won. Now, it appears well within the realm of possibility that the bill they’d opposed is going to lose, but without their having put up a fight. If the bill comes back in another session, it’s still going to face the same hurdles that are in front of it now – the opposition to the current measure is more a function of regional politics than of party politics. If you represent West Virginia, it doesn’t matter what party you come from, you’re not voting for a bill that hurts the coal industry.
When the measure is reintroduced in another session of Congress, though, the only issue will now be whether the carmakers get screwed even more. There will be an impetus to raise the fuel economy standards even more, and to close loopholes in the current bill that might have allowed the carmakers some flexibility in what they produce. That will be the battle because the carmakers have already conceded on the 35 mpg standard. The next compromise will be crafted from that, and the middle-ground will be at some point where the standards are higher and stricter than the current proposal.
Ever since the 1960’s the automakers have sought to appease the anti-automobile crowd, most of whom are liberal Democrats. They have failed to make their case with enthusiasts, say nothing of the public at large.
No industry has a broader fan base than carmakers. Millions and millions of people like cars and trucks, like power, like performance, and like to ability to buy what they like. There are many more of them than of those who would rather force everyone into a Smart, with the Prius the new standard in luxury large cars.
Yet, the auto industry has done nothing to rally support from this natural constituency. Instead, it relies on paid lobbyists to pull strings inside the Beltway, largely doing whatever John Dingell, whom they regard as a savior, tells them they must do. Dingell told them twice this session to surrender, initially when the legislation was proposed and Dingell told them they’d have to accept a big hike in fuel standards, and last week, when Dingell told them to sign off on the hike. And, so the did. No doubt, they justify this as being the best they could have done.
It probably is the best they could have done, given how badly they’ve bungled this and for how long they’ve bungled it. But, is not the best they could have done, had they bothered to actually try to advance the interests of their companies’ stockholders, employees, and customers.
The tragedy is that they didn’t even try.