Friday, April 22, 2005

Energy Votes Ill Omens for Centrism

As promised, I have been working up some analysis of three key votes in the House this week: those on the CAFE and ANWR amendments, and on the underlying bill itself. The results are not a surprise, but they remain somewhat disheartening for those interested in seeing the triumph of centrist politics and policy goals.

- On the Boehlert Amendment, which would have required the Secretary of Transportation to regulate the average fuel economy standards from today's average of 25 miles per gallon for cars to 33 mpg by 2015. The amendment failed by a vote of 177-254. Those supporting the bill were 36 Republicans, 170 Democrats, and 1 Independent. The opposition was comprised of 194 Republicans and 60 Democrats. Those Republicans supporting Boehlert's bill came largely from the Northeast, Midatlantic and Lower Midwest (25 of 36), with scattered support from the South (8), and Upper Midwest (2) and the West (1) and with the exception of those from the South, were the usual moderates. Those Democrats in opposition were largely from the South, the Congressional Black Caucus, and Michigan (behold, the power of automakers).

The most interesting finding about this vote is the fact that it reveals a slight shift from the vote on a similar measure in April, 2003. That time around, the amendment failed 162-268 [the 2001 version also failed, 160-269]. So in the past two years approximately fifteen votes have shifted in favor of increasing fuel efficiency standards. An extrapolation would suggest that in six years, if shifting continues to occur at the same rate, proponents of increased fuel efficiency would finally attain a majority. However, with the increased polarization in the House after each passing congressional election, I have no reason to believe that this trend will occur.

- On the amendment sponsored by Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Nancy Johnson of Connecticut to continue the ban on oil and gas drilling and exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the vote was 200-231. Those voting for the amendment included 29 Republicans, 170 Democrats and 1 Independent. Thirty Democrats joined 201 Republicans in voting to open ANWR. Of the 29 Republicans in support of ANWR, only one came from the South (Tom Davis of Virginia) and only one from the West (David Reichert of Washington). The remainder all hailed from the Northeast, Midaltantic and Midwest.

For those Democrats who voted with the Republican majority on this measure, almost the exact opposite was true. Only six of the thirty came from outside the South or California (Brady, Kanjorski and Murtha from Pennsylvania; Herseth from South Dakota; Peterson of Minnesota).

This vote even more than that on CAFE highlights the real regional split over many environmental issues: they tend to pit the Northeast and Midwest against the South and Far West, and often these votes are able (as we see here) to overcome party lines in favor of regional allegiances. It is often the moderate wing of the GOP and the conservative wing of the Democratic Party that split off from their respective parties.

- The final vote on the energy bill was 249-183. Forty-one Democrats and 208 Republicans supported the bill; 160 Democrats, 1 Independent and 22 Republicans opposed it. The splits were very similar to those on the ANWR amendment.

None of these votes (with the possible exception of the CAFE amendments if a very unlikely trend continues) bode well for centrist policy goals. Moderate Republicans sided with the minority in each of these votes (and were not close to reaching majority in any of them), but according to opinion polls, Americans are strongly in favor of increasing CAFE standards for automobiles and generally oppose the opening of ANWR. The increased polarization and conservatism in Congress are together serving to keep fuel efficiency standards low and supporting exploration in ANWR - and these are just two examples of this trend.

In order to turn the tide on this trend, centrists must begin to bring in other views on these environmental questions. I'm not sure whether the national security argument (as made by Set America Free) will be most effective, or some other angle will need to be seized upon, but (barring the election of many more centrists in 2006), if we're ever going to attain enactment of more efficient fuel efficiency standards or protect ANWR, centrists like the RINO will have to work much harder to persuade others of the rightness of our cause.


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