Several weeks ago MissLaura wrote a story about how the actions of the United Auto Workers and the Big Three (Ford, GM, Daimler-Chrysler) caused Congress to not raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards in 1990, which have remained stagnant ever since-although the Senate succesfully added CAFE increases to the energy bill they passed, it'll be tough to get the House to support the provision, and if Bush vetoes it, Congress won't be able to override.
If this fails, Congress ought to pass Senator Obama's Healthcare for Hybrids Act, which has won approval from environmentalists, the United Auto Workers and the Big Three.
Obama the Uniter
Obama's strongest skill is his uncanny ability to take groups and people with disparate and even conflicting interests, and unite them to get things done to help Illinois, the United States, and even the world as a whole.
In the Illinois legislature, Obama was extraordinarily successful at getting Republicans and Democrats to work together to do all sorts of great things, from instituting the earned income tax credit to combating racial profiling to videotaping police interrogations (which, thanks to Obama, went from being controversial to passing unanimously) to a Gift Ban Act to protecting overtime.
In fact, he was so successful that even Republican state Senator Kirk Dillard, who had previously called him "soft on crime and borderline socialist on health care," thought so much of him that to the chagrin of the Illinois Republican Committee, he agreed to appear in a campaign commercial for him (currently playing in Iowa),
You can watch this commercial here.
In the United States Senate, he has been just as skilled.
He worked with Senator Dick Lugar (although he's a conservative, these days he's among the 15 best Republicans in the Senate) stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in a non-violent manner.
More impressively, he's managed to work with the extremely odious far-right conservative Senator Tom Coburn (although he is my favorite Senator from the state of Oklahoma, that's only because Inhofe is terrible almost beyond belief) to pass the Coburn-Obama earmark transparency legislation. It will, as it says in the linked page, let us know better where our tax dollars are being spent. However, what's far more important is the effect such legislation has and will have on K Street lobbyists and the military-industrial complex.
It'll now be far harder for members of Congress to hide wasteful earmarks like the Bridge to Nowhere and the billions of dollars wasted on outdated and unnecessary weapons and other defense projects. After all, Ted Stevens (pending further investigation) and Duke Cunningham's were bribed by defense contractors in return for earmarks for unnecessary projects (this may be why Stevens put a hold on the bill in the first place).
Health Care for Hybrids Act
So it's only natural that Obama's proposed a plan to finally get Detroit to start making fuel-efficient cars.
Obama started with four crucial facts.
- The Big Three are convinced CAFE standard increases will doom them financially, and UAW has gone along with them for fear of losing jobs and benefits (I'm not going to get into whether or not these fears are reasonable.
Using these facts, Senator Obama, along with Representative Jay Inslee, came up with this plan.
Here is a summary, in their words:
This bill would set up a voluntary program in which automakers could choose to receive federal financial assistance towards their retiree healthcare costs. In return, the automakers would be required to reinvest these savings into developing fuel-efficient vehicles. As a result, our proposal would measurably reduce our nation's dependence on oil. Some of these technologies are already available and awaiting use by the Big Three.
Instead of a no-strings-attached financial bailout of the auto industry that could lead to factories being built overseas, our proposal could jumpstart the industry to commercialize new technology that consumers are demanding. More American hybrid cars also ensure that there is competition in this growing market, and would also help keep car prices low.
The plan, pioneered by the Center for American Progress, eliminates or greatly reduces the rationale on the part of the auto industry and UAW for opposition to CAFE increases, and also gives a much-needed jumpstart to the American auto industry and the Rust Belt by increasing research into fuel-efficient vehicles that will make Americans want to start buying American cars again.
You can listen to him talk about this Act, and about the automotive industry and CAFE standards in general in this video (a speech given to the Detroit Economic Club)
The most likely criticism of this plan from a progressive standpoint is that it's a poor substitute for universal healthcare. This may be true. However, of the three Democratic candidates who have released
their healthcare plans, only Kucinich's single-payer plan would totally free GM and Ford from their health-care obligations and put all GM and Ford employees on government-sponsored health care/insurance.
The Obama and Edwards plans both assume and require as a condition of their fiscal success that businesses will not immediately drop all employees they're currently covering. To prevent such a thing, under both plans, they will be required to pay an additional tax to help pay for covering their employees under the plan they choose (public or private).
Businesses have a responsibility to support their employees’ health. They will be required to either provide a comprehensive health plan to their employees or to contribute
to the cost of covering them through Health Markets.
-Universal Coverage Through Shared Responsibility(pg. 3)
(3) EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTION. Employers that do not offer meaningful coverage or
make a meaningful contribution to the cost of quality health coverage for their employees will be required to contribute a percentage of payroll toward the costs of the national
plan. Barack Obama's plan for a Healthy America (pgs. 4-5)
So under the health-care plans of the two serious Democratic candidates who've released them (and almost certainly under the plan Hillary will come up with), GM and Ford will still have a big burden to pay for health care [this can be considered a legitimate problem with both plans, of course].
Therefore, even with either universal health care plan signed into law, this piece of legislation is fully relevant and needed.
Some might also say that all we need is political willpower to push and we can get really high CAFE standards as a stand-alone.
This ignores the reality of the situation. Last session of Congress, Sherwood Boehlert introduced an amendment to the Energy Policy Act to increase CAFE standards to 33 mpg by 2015. It got more than enough Republican votes to pass (36) had every Democrat stayed on board. But 60 Democrats did not do so.
And it was largely not the "DINOs" who voted against this amendment. Allen Boyd, Jim Cooper, Harold Ford, Stephanie Herseth, Jim Matheson, Collin Peterson, Ike Skelton and Gene Taylor all voted YEA.
What killed the bill was nearly entirely
- Democrats from fossil-fuel-producing areas (oil&natural gas: 9 of 11 Texas Dems, Dan Boren, both Dems from Louisiana, 2 Dems from Arkansas; coal: most Appalachian/other coal area Dems, including Holden and Kanjorski from PA, Chandler from KY, Gordon and Davis from TN, all the Dems from AL and WV, and Rick Boucher, John Salazar).
- Democrats from areas with big UAW/auto/auto part presences (all 6 Dems from Michigan, including John Conyers, Strickland, Jones and Kaptur from Ohio, Visclosky from Indiana, Cleaver and Clay from Missouri, Scott from Virginia, Scott from Atlanta, Jim Clyburn from SC, Danny Davis and Bobby Rush from Illinois).
Support for the Healthcare for Hybrids Act
Most importantly, the legislation is getting good reviews (not superb, but it's impossible to get nearly every interest group to love a bill; it's amazing enough to get them all to even like it) from all sorts of disparate interests.
"(Healthcare for Hybrids') stroke of genius is in connecting the dots - decreasing oil consumption is clearly a top national priority but it will not happen without a national investment." -Walter McManus, director of U of Michigan's Transportation Institute
... A better proposal would be to offer health care for autoworkers in exchange for higher fuel economy standards -- the 'Health Care for Hybrids' idea that Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton are advocating. That proposal demands competitiveness and accountability from the industry. Michael Shellenberger, co-founder of the Apollo Alliance for Good Jobs and Clean Energy
While, the UAW doesn’t endorse all the specifics in these bills; we do wholeheartedly support the central thrust of these proposals: that the government can and should promote greater energy independence by providing incentives for auto companies to manufacture alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles and components in the United States.
We are not advocating a "bail out for Detroit’s Big Three." We firmly believe that any incentives must be designed to establish a truly level playing field among all the automakers and automotive parts suppliers. We believe that, in the near term, the most important thing the federal government can do to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil would be to aggressively promote the production, sale and use of alternative fuel vehicles.
-Ron Gettelfinger, UAW President
[Sen. Obama] is addressing two of the nation's greatest challenges, energy security and healthcare,... Like every large employer, we do face increasing healthcare costs driven largely by an uncompetitive health care market. We look forward to working with the senator in finding solutions to that dilemma. -Ford Motor Company