Saturday, December 17, 2011

Light Bulbs

A light bulb went on in my own head when I read in this morning's LA Times (the paper edition) that the spending bill passed by the House yesterday includes a provision blocking enforcement of new energy efficiency rules for light bulbs, meaning that we will be able to use old fashioned, wasteful incandescent bulbs for a few extra years. What struck me was the article's mention that the federal government policy of phasing out inefficient light bulbs was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007. Remember it was George W. Bush who acknowledged that our country is addicted to oil, and who actually took some steps, however tentative, to wean us from our addiction and to increase energy efficiency.

What stories like this bring home is that today's Congressional Republicans are not really so much in rebellion against President Obama and the Democrats. One reason that our country's politics have become so polarized is that the new Republican Party has repudiated policies that they themselves advocated only a few years ago. One of President Bush's signature initiatives was to expand the federal role in education. Today's Republican candidates want to abolish the entire Department of Education. President Bush dramatically expanded the reach of Medicare to include a prescription drug benefit. Today's Republicans want to turn Medicare into a block grant program that will force an increasing share of medical costs onto beneficiaries. President Bush pursued an interventionist foreign policy. Many of today's Republicans want us to retreat from global involvement.

It was these Bush initiatives--particularly the Medicare expansion and foreign wars, and thirdly his infamous tax cuts--that caused a gigantic expansion in the federal deficit. And even today, most of the federal deficit is the result of these Bush policies. (The other major contributor to the deficit is the recession itself, which has reduced government revenues, and triggered automatic spending increases for such entitlements as food stamps and unemployment benefits.) Therefore, when Republicans in Congress today rail against excessive government spending and the deficit, they are really in rebellion against Bush policies more than Obama's.

But back to light bulbs. By taking such an extreme stance against a common sense measure to increase energy efficiency and spur the market to create more advanced energy solutions, what kind of message are Congressional Republicans sending? It's more than denying global warming. It's more than disregard of the environment. It is hostility to government regulation to the point that we are defending wastefulness and inefficiency in private industry and home consumption. It is standing up for the right of Americans to pay higher electric bills. It is disregard of science and technology to the point where we become fearful of change and innovation. My guess is that even Thomas Edison, who perfected the incandescent lamp in 1879, would be disgusted with modern politicians' efforts to cling to such an outmoded technology.

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