A Poor Attempt to Sweeten the Deal on Shaheen–Portman Energy Efficiency Bill
If lawmakers add amendments to a flawed bill in an attempt to attract more support for the bill, but the overall legislation remains flawed, should that be sufficient to satisfy the original policy concerns?
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) 2% and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) 29% seem to be using this tactic to gain co-sponsors for their bill, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 761). With the addition of ten amendments, they’ve gained new co-sponsors such as Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) 41%, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) 21%, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) 52%.
Energized by this new support, reports indicate the Senate will begin debating the bill once again after the Easter recess. First introduced in 2011, Shaheen–Portman, as the bill is known, has not been able to pass out of the Senate for years. Most recently, it was pulled from the Senate floor in October — due in part to an attempt to attach amendments to defund Obamacare and authorize the Keystone pipeline — and since then, its sponsors have been “shopping it around for additional support, and making compromises.”
But having additional support does not mean legislation would be any better for taxpayers. It “relies on taxpayer-funded handouts, not the market, to generate efficiency improvements.” It is full of taxpayer-funded handouts for commercial and residential building upgrades, manufacturing and industrial processes, and worker training programs. As we noted in our key vote against the bill last year, it is “fatally flawed because it is based on the idea that businesses and families will act irrationally unless the government intervenes.”
The Heritage Foundation’s Nicolas Loris has explained, the government should not use taxpayer money to encourage energy efficiency when actors in the private sector are perfectly capable of and willing to use resources in the most efficient manner:
Shaheen–Portman ignores the long-standing truth that the free market promotes efficiency much better than the federal government. Congress should provide information, not subsidies, and make certain that efficiency improvements in the federal government actually save taxpayer money.
If individuals and businesses “do not take full advantage of efficiency gains, it is because they are weighing other factors,” Loris stated.
If the ten new amendments added to the bill don’t address the bill’s fundamental problems, they shouldn’t sway lawmakers interested in protecting taxpayers from more unnecessary spending. Congress should contribute to energy efficiency by providing information on a voluntary basis, not by dangling the carrots of taxpayer subsidies.
Before the Senate began debate on the bill in 2013, Loris suggested, “If these initiatives promise savings for families and businesses, Members of Congress should question why taxpayer money is necessary to help fund them.” When they debate the bill after the recess, they still need to answer that question.