If Winnin’ Was Easy, Everybody’d Be A Winner

Stop compulsively refreshing Mike Bloomberg’s campaign website, will ya, and listen up! 

The big news is that for the first time in a long time, the Senate voted to massively jack up the fuel-efficiency standards.  The new line: fleet averages of both cars and light trucks have to hit 35 mpg by 2020.  This was in spite of a huge lobbying effort by some of the biggest guns in DC: the oil companies and the car companies.  Their short-sighted enablers from the great state of Michigan (Levin and Stabenow) embarked on what hopefully will be a long, consistent string of losses.

But even this “big win” was a blueprint for how hard it will be to move the federal government, and how it will be a fight, fought hard, for every little bit of forward progress.

Simple math dictates much of the scenario: it takes, as a practical matter, 60 votes to move any big legislation through the Senate, and the current breakdown is 50-49.  So party-line splits will never even get to a vote; the Senate is defense-dominant.  To get the 10 or more votes you need from across the aisle, the only effective tool is heavy compromise.   

Consider the following compromises, that were born of necessity just to get the mileage standards passed:

  • The good side: the efficiency standard used to be much weaker for SUV’s and pickups than for cars (21 mpg vs. 27+ mpg).  Now, those vehicles would be held to the same 35-mpg mark as cars. 
  • On the other hand, a huge tax-break shift, that would have taken $32 Billion(!) in tax breaks from the oil industry and moved it all to the renewables sector, got dropped.  Not reduced, rolled back, or weakened — dropped. 
  • Another great idea — mandating that electricity companies get more and more energy (as a percentage) from renewables over time — also go dropped and replaced with a far more dodgy minimum-gallons requirement for gasoline alternatives.  Hello, high corn prices and hello, expensive groceries.
  • Goodies for the farm states ensured were necessary to ensure the votes of mercenary legislators like Charles Grassley, who saw the wisdom of the bill primarily because of the subsidy check for Iowa that was attached to it. 

Now it’s on to the House, and to the President’s desk. 


  • Go Big.  This bill had not one but a few mammoth changes in it, and several got killed so that one could live to pass the Senate.  If it had just been a fuel-economy bill, it would have died or been disastrously weakened.  Going after several big agenda items in one bill got a better final result.
  • Keep hitting.  A win is a win, and it sends messages of hope and encouragement to a long-beleaguered green movement.

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