Transparency and Representation in the Waxman-Markey Vote

Lynne Kiesling

In his usual trenchant way, Jonathan Adler has hit upon the two things to which I object the most in the Waxman-Markey bill and vote. The first is the one about which I wrote in May: despite all of the tooth-gnashing and knicker-twisting about the cap-and-trade portions of the bill, the really egregious aspects of it are its old-school command-and-control characteristics.

The second is the implications of the quick, ramrod process for bringing the bill to vote before any of our so-called representatives could have physically been able to read the bill, or even to have their staff read it and analyze it for them. With so much horse trading and jockeying happening at the last minute, and without any actual physical copies of the actual final version of the bill upon which they were voting, how can the members of Congress really retain any shred of an argument that they are indeed representing their voters, and that there is any room for public involvement or discourse in debate? Sure, they are representing some of their constituents, the ones who have concentrated enough economic interests to engage in the wasteful rent-seeking that leads to things like last-minute 300-page amendments to appease ethanol producers. If you try to tell me that ethanol rent seeking is on balance value-creating, I will guffaw directly in your face. And this is not the first time this Congress has used this ramrod; the energy bill debate back in February had the same type of process, with House members voting on a bill that they clearly had not had time to read and process.

Jonathan notes:

If legislation of this sort, which establishes the first-ever regulatory controls on the most ubiquitous byproduct of modern industrial society, imposes new efficiency requirements on all-manner of appliances and consumer products, could trigger the imposition of tariffs on foreign products (likely in violation of U.S. trade commitments), furthers the federal government’s environmentally destructive love affair with corn-based ethanol, contains numerous provisions drafted or urged by various special interest groups, and (at least in one version) contained provisions designed to create a national housing code, can be adopted by a House of Congress within hours of being written (let alone becoming public), then any claim of transparency in government is a farce.

This is depressing. With this Congress, have we finally met Ben Franklin’s curse?

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

3 thoughts on “Transparency and Representation in the Waxman-Markey Vote

  1. Confuse the public (which is such an easy thing to do) over the requirement for environmental controls whilst slipping through the back door the (real intended) command-and-control legislation……divide and conquer – graft onto the vine…..jeez, people are so easy to manipulate !!

    This ain’t no environmental crisis (never was/will be anyway !) this is a political crisis.

  2. On the one hand, this was an example of terrible negotiation, using time constraints to get things done before anyone can negotiate anything, or even understand what’s going on. The pandering to farmers’ groups, especially, was depressing.
    A question, though: would a long negotiation herald some sort of truth, or at least enlightened decision, or just prolong the rent-seeking and argument-counter-argument we’ve seen for so long?

    Don’t get me wrong, whatever the answer to that question might be, it doesn’t excuse the process.

  3. I have thought a lot about this. I am not opposed to cap & trade system, or a carbon tax, but I think this bill is so flawed as to be worthless.

    Start by asking yourself what a good system would look like.

    First, all of the permits to burn fossil fuel would be auctioned off and the proceeds would go into the Treasury. Anything else lines private pockets at public expense, and risks embedding incumbency in the system.

    Second, the only people who should be required to buy permits should be people who extract fossil fuels from the earth or who import them. Requiring end users to obtain permits puts a burden on far too many people. Will ordinary citizens be required get permits for their cars and gas stoves? If a large number of people are exempted, there will be fiddling and cheating.

    Measured by these criteria, the House bill is woefully inadequate.

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