This summer, the Senate passed something that on paper seemed even better than the Bush-Obama plan, ordering a 40 percent mpg improvement by 2020; the House has yet to act. But although the Bush-Obama plan had teeth, specifying that carmakers show annual mpg improvement beginning immediately, the Senate provision contained a huge asterisk: There are no annual milestones, just a requirement that the mpg rise be accomplished by 2020. That gives Detroit the green light to spend most of the next 13 years doing nothing about petroleum waste, and there is no endeavor in which American automakers are more accomplished than doing nothing about petroleum waste. Plus, the Senate bill contains a waiver provision -- as the 2020 deadline approaches, automakers can request a waiver. Thus the Senate mpg bill, widely praised by gullible editorialists, actually is pure froth.
Now remember that little phrase, "the House has yet to act." Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who boasts about how she will take the bold steps the president will not, won't allow a floor vote on any mileage provision. Pelosi says new mpg rules can be negotiated in conference committee -- that is, in secret, with no public disclosure. And she hasn't even scheduled a conference. George W. Bush proposed a strong, binding program of immediate mpg increases, and Democrats in the House refuse to allow an up-or-down public vote. The calculus is that Pelosi wants to prevent any kind of reform from passing so that, in the 2008 presidential election, Democrats can denounce Republicans for lack of progress on mpg. Wouldn't it be nice if House Democrats acted as though they cared about national security!