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September 20, 2013

Hokum and Bunk in the Senate

The ghost of the great cowboy philosopher and political humorist Will Rogers visited me last night. He showed me some new lariat tricks, commiserated about the recent Red Sox sweep of the Yankees, and shared a "salty one" he heard from Mark Twain. Inevitably, the talk turned to politics.

"How about that Congress?" Will asked. "They playing any better than the Yankees these days?"

"Not exactly," I said, "the Senate has been considering a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill that was introduced by Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican. It's the first energy bill the Senate has even come close to passing in six years. And they're whiffing."

Will looked skeptical. "Energy efficiency? Sounds like one of those patent medicines they sell on the radio. Mostly hokum."

"No, it's actually a straightforward, commonsense bill," I said. "It's about improving building codes, offering incentives to save on energy bills, and providing job training on new energy technologies. It would create between 66,000 and 81,000 jobs and save folks between $2.1 billion and $3.3 billion in annual energy costs by 2020. If it passes, it will be like a stimulus and a tax cut rolled into one. Everybody would save money, and we'd reduce climate pollution, too."

"Sorry," said Will. "I lost the trail at straightforward and commonsense. As I always said, the Senate thinks its job is to sit and wait till they find out what the president wants, so they know how to vote against him."

"The more things change, the more they stay the same, Will. The problem this energy-efficiency bill is running into is that senators who don't like the president's energy policies keep trying to tack on amendments that have nothing to do with energy efficiency -- or even energy, in at least one case. Senator Vitter wants to use the bill to defund the president's healthcare initiative."

"Maybe he thought it was about patent medicine, too," said Will, always ready to give even a politician he'd never met the benefit of the doubt.

"I don't think so," I said. "And, then, of course, other senators want to load up the bill with industry giveaways and rollbacks. It's all political gamesmanship, of course, but it's infuriating to see it obstruct a bill that would actually do so much good."

But Will was gone, leaving only the faintest scent of sagebrush in his wake.

You don't need to be a cowboy philosopher to appreciate what an embarrassment the U.S. Senate's handling of the Shaheen-Portman bill is. Frankly, as Will would say, it's bunk. If you think it's time for our senators to do their job and pass an energy-efficiency bill that would save money, create jobs, and help stop climate disruption, take a few seconds to send them a message.

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