Energy-Policy Jujitsu: Using 9-11 To Block Bush’s Proposal To Increase Our Energy Security

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is using the September 11 terrorist attacks to block President Bush's proposal to increase our energy security. (If this sounds perverse, it is.) This — despite Bush having campaigned aggressively on reversing eight years of anti-energy policy. Despite the past year's energy difficulties, including an unprecedented, blatantly political dip into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Despite the struggling economy and the indisputable link between affordable energy and economic activity. Despite increasing tension in the Middle East.

Despite all this, Tom Daschle positions “Republicans,” seeking to increase our energy security, as using the terrorist acts of war for their partisan, political objectives. And all merely to achieve his partisan, political objectives, which happen to have human consequences — and further weaken our ability to withstand more attacks and international instability. Presidential aspirant Daschle learned well from his mentors the Clintons, and from their talent for using language not to convey one's meaning but to disguise it.

Let us review the bidding. In September, 2000, candidate Bush released a detailed energy agenda. It incorporated themes he advocated throughout his pursuit of the nomination, dedicating particularly prominent attention to lowering the record “U.S. dependence on foreign oil” and “making energy security a priority of U.S. foreign policy.” As president he advocated national energy reform, yielding a House-passed bill including numerous compromises, and benefiting from both heavy union lobbying and the support of 36 Democrats. We call this a bipartisan bill.

Predictably, Senate Republicans advocated their version and the Democrats criticized it, yipping ritual arguments about windmills and wasteful consumption. The White House continued to pitch its original proposal, seemingly believing it could get from a Daschle-controlled Senate what it failed to achieve in a DeLay-led House. Things plodded deliberately, which is to say not at all.

Then we were at war, and sensitized to the vulnerability of our own energy security. President Bush continued with his arguments for increasing the supply and availability of domestic-energy assets. Daschle slapped him down, asserting about both this and the stimulus plan that “[w]e must not use the tragedy of September 11 to push through favored causes… if they won't provide an immediate boost to our economy,” and muttering other warnings about political opportunism.

So, Bush ran on particular agenda items keyed — in whole or in part — to stimulating the economy and protecting our national and energy security. Tom Daschle disagrees with the Bush approach(es), declaring pursuit of these items to be inappropriate now that the threats against which they were designed have become exponentially more acute. Got that? As usual, in order to not be “partisan” Bush need merely agree to his political opposition's agenda.

Granted, if true, Daschle's intimation of opportunistic politicking — now regularly inveighed against proposals he dislikes — is as obscene as are the telescam artists nabbed for pulling essentially the same stunt: preying on current fears to inappropriately obtain that which they otherwise could not.

Therefore, shame on Tom Daschle.

Daschle has said no one should use national or energy security after the September 11 attacks to promote their agenda — knowing full well that President Bush argued both as principal reasons for his energy plan. Now that we have been attacked, and our energy sources are considered even more at risk, Daschle will not stand for those arguments because he knows they are persuasive. Thus, Daschle cleverly, if sinisterly, uses the attacks to achieve his previous goal — blocking Bush's energy bill to appease his anti-energy “environmentalist” base, though angering unions, in the hope of frightening enough young mothers to make up for it.

The votes existed to get an acceptable energy bill out of the Senate Energy Committee, and to pass such legislation if given a floor vote. Therefore, perhaps feeling he could not trust Democratic Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman to be sufficiently mendacious, Daschle humiliatingly rescinded Bingaman's jurisdiction over a matter that most Americans increasingly recognize as critical not merely to our standard of living, but to our security. In lieu of a bill with bipartisan support crafted by the Energy Committee, Daschle instead promised to personally craft a “moderate alternative” — alternative ostensibly to an “oilman president,” but in reality to existing bipartisan efforts. He says we might see it next spring.

Now, Senate Republicans claim they're going to get tough and attach energy to “anything that moves.” Sen. John Kerry has vowed to filibuster Republican attempts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for exploration. Last week, he upped Daschle's dirty ante with, “If they are going to play partisan politics during a time of war, we will have to use every weapon available to us to get important national security interests before Congress.”

Daschle and Kerry indicate they will counter with a quilt of proposals reflecting evil genius — for which now is hardly the time — offering programs they have no desire to see enacted (some offshore exploration and a gas pipeline from Alaska). Dashle's confidence is justifiably high that he can make the president and his Senate allies appear “unreasonable,” as they of course will reject this mirage for failing to include the necessary liberalization of domestic exploration and production restrictions. Thus, with a compliant media, Daschle appears the voice of moderation.

President Bush adopting the House bill as a bipartisan achievement isolates Daschle as a political bottom-feeder. Senate Republicans must drop their own hobbyhorses, force the House-passed “bipartisan” bill, and disavow the White House of its apparent belief that the president's (assuredly temporary) riches in political capital are best kept under the mattress. Tom Daschle is behaving badly, and energy security is, now more than ever, critical.