Above the fold in today's Business section, Washington Post reporters Jeffrey Birnbaum and Steven Mufson file an intriguing dispatch on the process that led to Rep. John Dingell's (D-MI) reversal last week on raising fuel economy standards. They observe that while industry divisions certainly helped weaken his negotiating position-- apparently Nissan decided to break from the pack and advocate somewhat bolder measures-- Dingell was also determined to accept the situation's gravity and get something workable through.
That's progress. And Dingell is definitely keeping with his longtime role as a go-between for the industry, advocating fiercely for their efforts but at the same time ultimately being vital to nationalizing state-driven efforts. Still, just because he genuinely "gets the issue" and accepts reality, that doesn't mean he has to like it, as Politico's Ryan Grim reports over at The Crypt:
Obviously, Pelosi got her way in [their] standoff, so it wasn't totally surprising that Dingell offered his support for the bill during a closed-door meeting of House Democrats Tuesday night. After all, outward kindness is the usual post-script for most political fights on Capitol Hill since lawmakers would rather bury the hatchet (in their opponent's back).
But the Energy and Commerce chairman (and longest serving House member) wasn't exactly gushing in his praise of the bill. Instead, according to folks in the room, he told members he supported the much-anticipated legislation and then went on to predict Republicans won't vote for it, the Senate probably can't pass it and President Bush will definitely veto it on the off chance that they do.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for those wavering Democrats.
More importantly, after getting rolled (again) by Pelosi on attempts to craftily limit the EPA (and in the process, the states), Dingell and the business community still haven't completely backed down:
In a letter Wednesday to Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., eight trade groups said the bill should require the EPA and NHTSA to "work together to establish a single national fuel economy standard as established by Congress."
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said her office had received the letter and was reviewing it. Dingell, who leads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told reporters Saturday that he planned to examine the EPA-NHTSA consistency issue in his committee.
Environmental groups have raised concerns that a combined approach would prevent California from moving forward with its strict tailpipe emissions standards, which would require automakers to build vehicles that produce 30 percent less greenhouse gases by 2016. More than a dozen other states have vowed to adopt them.
This continued lobbying meshes with earlier reports of the compromise, wherein Dingell conceded defeat but pledged to continue pressing the issue through his committee. Given the political realities demonstrated this past week, he'll probably do so in vain. But it's important to note that the preemption issue is definitely NOT dead, and remains critical to watch out for.
The industry is at the point where the gravity of the situation has caught up and led to concessions, but having invested so much in the politics (and spin) of delay and short-term thinking, it's trying to use every means at its disposal to cut off still-bolder action in both the present, and, more importantly, the future. The ground has shifted immensely, and this energy bill is a huge part of it, but as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same...