In an effort to convince the public that they are not the irresponsible buffoons we discovered them to be when they failed to even consider a sensible bipartisan energy bill last session, Democrats in the reconvened House of Representatives have suddenly bypassed the comprehensive bipartisan energy plan submitted in August to present a purely partisan, midnight 'no-frills' energy bill (HR 6899). In this case, 'no-frills' apparently means very little actual useful content and mostly a great deal of political grandstanding, which is why many are describing it as a 'hoax' and a 'sham'.
The 294-page bill was submitted at 9:45 Monday night with no vetting by any relevant committees, no bipartisan participation, and under procedural restrictions which allow for no debate, limited one-minute statements in opposition to the bill, and no amendments from the floor. The bill provides for no realistic expansion of oil drilling, draws dangerously on federal oil reserves, and is laden with billions of dollars in pork and bizarre pet project provisions, while at the same time doing nothing substantive even on issues of alternative energy research and development. The bill seems to exist solely so that Democratic candidates in the upcoming election can claim that they passed an energy bill, even if it is a total farce. Ordinarily a major energy bill would go through several committees where members of both parties would make sure that it was comprehensive and meaningful. When this bill was submitted hardly anyone but the authors and the Democratic congressional leadership had even seen it, yet it promises to pass on purely partisan lines in an exercise of raw majority power sometime on Tuesday or Wednesday.
In the one minute which Democratic leaders permitted him to speak about the bill this morning, minority whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) said:
Republicans have worked for years in this House to send good legislation to the Senate, joined by Democrats who agree with us on this issue. We worked all of August to call attention to the fact that we weren't dealing with the number-one problem facing the American people and now we have a bill will not produce any more energy and we know will increase energy prices. The renewable portfolio standards that raise everybody's electricity bill are unreasonable. But that doesn't matter because nobody expects this bill to become law. The drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf can't really occur. But maybe that doesn't matter either, because this bill is not about doing something that could become law.
I'm offended. Members of the House are offended and we should be by this process. And the American people should be offended that we're not doing the job for them that really matters.
Even ecological groups are not satisfied with the bill. While some are backing it reluctantly because it provides extensions to credits for renewable energy projects and does very little to expand drilling anywhere but in international waters, others are disappointed with the lack of any kind of comprehensive energy policy or provisions for long-term development of alternative energy. The National Audubon Society issued a statement which said:
We are deeply disappointed with the House energy bill due for a vote today. Instead of adopting forward-looking policies that will address our long-term energy needs, Congress is intent on playing politics. It's no secret that Americans want and need a green energy revolution that will spur energy conservation and expand clean renewable sources of power. Many of the people who will vote for today's package know this to be true. This bill does too little to bring about America's clean energy future.
Among the most questionable provisions in the bill are new rules permanently banning drilling in most of the best potential offshore drilling areas, billions of dollars in low-income housing subsidies, some of which target the districts of specific influential Democrats, and a program which could potentially buy a new bicycle for every commuter in the country at government expense. Not everything in the bill is disastrous. It borrows some good ideas from the comprehensive bipartisan bill which has already been submitted, including increasing the biodiesel subsidy and providing incentives for gas stations to install pumps for alternative fuels.
Aside from virtually shutting down offshore drilling the main problem with the bill is that it has not gone through any kind of oversight and is going to be rammed through the House in less than 24 hours and then submitted to the Senate on a similar fast track, with the goal of killing alternative bills which are much more comprehensive and have bipartisan support. With only two weeks left before the next recess, the goal here is to pass the bill before anyone has a chance to really look at it, stifling both public and legislative debate, but creating the impression that Democrats have done something about energy policy when in reality they are providing only a band-aid when major surgery may be needed.
House minority leader John Boehner expressed the outrage of many who were denied their chance to participate and represent their constituents interests when he said of the bill:
The American people want Congress to vote on an energy bill that does it all. This proposal does virtually the opposite. It’s an insult to Americans pummeled all summer long by sky-high gas prices, who watched congressional Democrats skip town for five weeks without voting on the comprehensive energy reforms Americans need and want.
This latest ‘no energy’ bill is just more of the same from a Majority more interested in appeasing radical special-interest groups that favor high gas prices and contribute millions to Democratic campaigns. It leaves most American energy under lock and key when we should be doing everything possible to expand energy production, increase conservation, and promote development of clean, renewable energy. It would permanently lock up 80 percent of our nation’s offshore energy resources – holding hostage billions of barrels of American oil at a time when we can use their revenue to develop new sources of clean, renewable energy.
This is the time to write your congressman and demand real energy reform rather than a partisan sham bill which does too little and will abort further progress on energy policy. Since you only have a matter of hours to write your representative before a vote is forced, you're probably better off writing your senator before the bill gets rammed down their throats later this week. The senate has a good chance of stopping this sham bill. Our energy future is too important to be thrown away on partisan grandstanding. Tell them to support comprehensive energy policy reform instead.