Editorial: Good bill, stymied by senseless politics
Here’s a story about the way we’d like to imagine the federal government could really work:
Two U.S. senators, a Democrat and a Republican, team up on energy legislation they both think is important for the country’s future. They work hard to win broad support: liberals and conservatives, business people and environmentalists. It looks like a true example of serious-minded people actually accomplishing something in Washington.
And yet . . .
Here in the real world, the bill remains stalled, despite the fact that most people who know about it seem to think it’s a good idea.
What happened? The energy bill, sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio, has been hijacked by Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, a Republican who had nothing to do with the energy legislation but is keen on undoing the Affordable Care Act and appears to have found a way to combine the two issues.
Vitter put a “hold” on the energy bill, a move that allows an individual senator to block legislation at will. He intends to obstruct action unless he can get a vote on a measure reducing the health insurance premium subsidies that lawmakers and their aides receive next year, after they switch from federally provided insurance to new health-care exchanges created under Obamacare. He also wants to force top administration officials to get their coverage through the exchanges.
Some Democrats, frustrated by the maneuver, apparently tried to strike back. According to Politico, they’ve drafted legislation to deny lawmakers their health care premium subsidy if there is “probable cause” to believe they solicited prostitutes. That’s a reference to the 2007 “D.C. Madam” scandal in which Vitter’s name appeared on a prostitution service’s client list. Vitter responded by filing an ethic complaint against the alleged Democratic tactic.
Obamacare, prostitutes, ethics complaint
. . . what about the energy bill?
Here’s what’s at stake: The Shaheen-Portman legislation would create incentives to encourage greater use of energy-saving technology in office buildings, manufacturing plants and homes. It’s been endorsed by 260 groups, including the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.
The legislation strengthens national model building codes to make buildings more energy efficient while working with states and industry to make code-writing more transparent. It trains workers in energy-efficient commercial building design. It directs the Department of Energy to work with private-sector partners to encourage research, development and commercialization of energy-efficient technology and processes for industrial applications. It helps manufacturers reduce energy use by encouraging the use of more efficient electric motors and transformers. It establishes a program to make companies’ supply chains more efficient. It requires the federal government to adopt energy-saving techniques for computers. And it allows federal agencies to use existing money to update plans for new federal buildings, using the most current efficiency standards.
Well-meaning people can quibble over the particulars of the bill, but that’s not what’s going on here. In his zeal to undo the Affordable Care Act, a single senator has gummed up the works.
In a visit to the Grappone auto dealership in Bow this summer, Shaheen noted that energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest way to address our energy challenges. “I am hopeful we can move this bill forward without delay. It is the right thing to do for our economy, our environment, and our future,” she said.
Probably so. But with Washington paralyzed by ideological zealotry, don’t hold your breath.