And people looked unto the Capitol, and beheld trouble and darkness: The House of Representatives had failed to save the incandescent light bulb.
Under current law — enacted in 2007 under Pres. George W. Bush — Congress will effectively ban the bulb, starting with its 100-watt incarnation on Jan. 1, 2012. Since this spring, however, free-market advocates such as Freedom Action have called for a repeal of the ban, which they believed would sail through the House.
But yesterday, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) snuffed that idea.
The repeal bill, offered by Rep. Joe Barton (R., Tex.), commanded a 233-vote majority — but because the House had suspended the rules to consider the bill immediately, it required a two-thirds majority to pass. The GOP took that risk because it was afraid Democrats would stall the bill in committee — just long enough for the ban to take effect — and it hoped it could peel off enough opposition votes to secure the necessary margin.
Unfortunately for Republicans, Pelosi personally whipped members to vote against the bill, a Democratic aide told Politico. And the administration made its will known: In a conference call with reporters, energy secretary Steven Chu warned that if the bill passed, “We’ll be dropping backwards in America’s need to become more energy efficient.”
“I gotta believe they saw a chance to bring down a Republican initiative — aimed at one of Leader Pelosi’s signature issues,” says Rep. Michael Burgess (R., Texas).
But ten Republicans also voted against the bill, and one, Rep. Rob Bishop (R., Utah), voted present. Many of the “no” votes were self-styled eco-friendly types, but at least in Bishop’s case, there were constitutional concerns. In fact, Bishop originally co-sponsored the repeal, but changed his mind after the bill evolved into a different form: It not only repealed the federal ban, but also prohibited states from imposing their own efficiency standards.
“While I agree that it may be unwise for a state to restrict the choice of a product such as a light bulb, the Tenth Amendment was designed to ensure states have the power to implement policies that reflect the specific needs and interests of the people,” Bishop said in a statement. “This modified version infringes on that power, and therefore I could not support this bill.”
In response to their failure to garner a two-thirds majority, Republicans plan to attach a repeal vehicle to a bill that’s considered under the normal procedure — and therefore needs only a simple majority to pass. Currently, the House is considering the water and energy appropriations bill, and Burgess plans by the end of this week to offer a “limiting amendment” — i.e., one that prohibits the federal government from funding (and thus implementing) a regulation. It should delay the ban for at least a year.
“I think Speaker Boehner is pretty insistent on this,” Myron Ebell, director of Freedom Action. “I expect if they can get it in a bill — a bill that Democrats really want — the House Republicans will have the upper hand.” Even the Senate, Ebell predicts, might go easy on it — we are, after all, close to an election year.
Election politics might even stay the president’s veto pen. But Ebell predicts the window of opportunity is soon closing: “If this is 2013, I see him vetoing this. This year, maybe not.”
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.