A Drive down Memory Lane on Memorial Day

by William Yeatman on May 30, 2011

in Blog, Features

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Driving is an American pastime on Memorial Day weekend. Indeed, today’s holiday is THE road trip occasion in American culture. This acute association explains why American politicians choose the lead up to Memorial Day to trot out plans to address high gasoline prices.

This year, it was dueling votes in the Senate. Roughly speaking, the Republicans tried to increase the supply of oil by ending the Obama administration’s de facto moratorium on domestic drilling, wrought by bureaucratic foot-dragging. The legislation already had been passed by the Republican-controlled House. On the other hand, the Democrats wanted to raise taxes on “Big Oil” companies, by eliminating tax breaks enjoyed by many—and in some cases, all—businesses. Neither party wooed enough votes to survive a filibuster, so they both failed. Of the two, the Republicans’ ideas were better this time, but there have been instances in the past when both parties were equally bad in the run up to Memorial Day weekend.

In May 2001, for example, President George W. Bush unveiled his administration’s much-hyped “Task Force Report on Energy.” To be sure, there were some great ideas in the unwieldy report, but there were also many awful ideas, foremost among them being the President’s proposal to waste taxpayer dollars on the FreedomCar initiative, a dead-end hydrogen fuel technology. The Task Force Report on Energy also called for a scientific report on the need for more stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards. This was the first step to the President ultimately signing into law increased fuel efficiency standards in late 2007. As has been covered extensively by my colleague Sam Kazman, CAFE standards are unwarranted violations of consumer choice that have the unfortunate side-effect of killing motorists.

The last Republican President’s transportation policies were losers, but Congressional Democrats are the league leaders in stupid energy policies issued near Memorial Day. Consider their run since 2006:

2006: Senate Democrats scuttled legislation to open ANWR with a promised filibuster.

2007: House Democrats passed the cleverly titled NOPEC (No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act) bill, legislation that would somehow alter the resource acquisition decisions made by sovereign countries, among them allies. That is, the NOPEC bill was pure, unadulterated grandstanding.

2008: Senate Democrats tried to drum up drama over nefarious oil “speculators.” Like the 2007 NOPEC Act, targeting “speculators” sounds furious, but signifies nothing.

2009: House Democrats proposed a novel solution for high gas prices: higher gas prices. With the support of House leadership, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) pushed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a cap-and-trade energy rationing scheme designed to raise the price of hydrocarbon energy like gasoline.

2010: BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster dominated the energy policy debate for the entire summer. Funny how we don’t talk about that anymore.

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