Conservatives Master Obstruction
Yesterday, Senate conservatives continued their stated strategy of "making political points" by obstructing legislation meant to address America's energy and environmental challenges. First, in a 51-43 vote, conservatives successfully used the threat of a filibuster to block the Consumer-First Energy Act, which would have "levied a 25 percent tax on 'windfall profits' of major oil companies" that don't invest more in renewable energy. Daniel J. Weiss, the Center for American Progress's Director of Climate Strategy, says that such a tax would "spur investments in clean energy alternatives." The bill would also have "given the government more power to address oil market speculation, opened the way for antitrust actions against countries belonging to the OPEC oil cartel, and made energy price gouging a federal crime." The second bill blocked by conservatives, the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008, failed by a vote of 50-44. It would have extended popular tax breaks for renewable energy that are set to expire at the end of this year. The failure to pass the tax breaks is worrisome to the renewables industry, which is "already seeing a slowing of growth in the sector because companies are hesitant to start new projects without the assurance that these credits will be available." Yesterday's obstructionism is the third time in less than a week that Senate conservatives have used parliamentary tactics to block energy legislation. On Friday, conservatives blocked the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act after first shutting down the Senate by forcing the clerk to read the entire bill on the Senate floor.
A 'CYNICAL' STRATEGY OF OBSTRUCTION: A Republican strategy memo obtained last week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) made clear that the obstructionist tactics employed by conservatives were aimed solely at "making political points" rather than "affecting policy." "You could not make up anything more cynical," said Reid when he revealed the memo on the Senate floor. As Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) noted on the Senate floor yesterday, conservatives in Congress have broken historical precedent by engaging in 75 filibusters this Congress. But the filibuster isn't the only obstructionist tactic employed by Senate Republicans. Yesterday, Senate conservatives used a rare maneuver to shut down a Judiciary Committee hearing on torture by forcing the Senate into recess. Reid called the maneuver by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) "part of a pattern of obstruction." Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who has been in the Senate since 1992, remarked that the shut down was "very, very unusual."
CONSERVATIVES WANT TO DRILL: At the same time they are blocking investment in alternative energy, conservatives, allied with Big Oil, are claiming that the cure to America's energy problems is simply "increasing domestic oil supplies by permitting new exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in the waters on the Outer Continental Shelf." Their mantra, in the words of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is to "drill here, drill now." The entire conservative noise machine is getting behind the call for increased domestic drilling. "We need to be drilling more and drilling now here at home," bellowed Rush Limbaugh on his radio show yesterday. Just yesterday, House Republicans filed a discharge petition to "force a floor vote on legislation on oil drilling in Alaska." The White House agrees with its conservatives allies. "Instead of populist votes that would do nothing for gas prices, we need to allow domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways," said spokesman Tony Fratto yesterday.
BUT DRILLING WON'T HELP: "More drilling. More drilling. More drilling. That is the Johnny One Note policy" of conservatives, charged House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in response to the discharge petition. "Feeding that addiction by tapping another vein just drills us into a deeper hole," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Furthermore, opening up drilling domestically in places such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge wouldn't have the effect on gas prices that conservatives claim. The U.S. Geological Survey believes that drilling in the refuge would likely produce only 3.2 billion barrels of oil, which is "not even enough to satisfy six months' demand." Additionally, it would take 10 years for oil drilled in the Arctic to reach the market and another 40 years to extract the full amount of oil. Instead of making "long-term investments in affordable transportation alternatives that use significantly less gasoline or oil," conservatives want to double down on more and more domestic drilling.