In a rare weekend session, US Senate Democrats tried to bring up for a vote whether to reduce Bush era tax cuts, due to expire in 2010. They failed, because Republicans prevented the bill from coming to the floor, using their now familiar procedural trick, the filibuster.
Republicans abuse Senate rules to prevent votes on progressive bills. The vote failed, getting only 53% of the Senate vote, which in most democracies would be a win. But a rule essentially allows a 40% minority to say they are never quite ready to take a vote on some bill they don’t like, which means that to bring anything to a vote takes 60% agreement. Republicans now have a 46% minority in the US Senate. Anything over 40% means they can hold the US hostage to their wishes to keep bills from being voted on up or down.
Republican Senators in the US, some of whom make as much as $19 million a year, openly refused to allow any bills to come up for a vote until the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires are extended.
Democratic Senators wanted to let the tax cuts for the richest expire on schedule, saving $600 billion. Much smaller tax cuts for the middle class (families earning up to $250,000) they would extend, because with unemployment at a record 9%, many US families are struggling with unemployment. Anyone earning less than that would get a tax cut. The bill included much needed unemployment extension and other finance-related policy.
One little-noticed casualty of the latest example of this Republican extortion is the remarkable renewable energy policy contained in the Obama administration Recovery Act. One in particular, that 30% tax credits for building new large scale solar projects could be taken as cash grants by companies with no profits to take the tax credit against. This is due to expire on December 31.
To prevent it expiring, Senator Baucus (D) slipped an extension of the 30% tax credits into the tax cuts bill at the last minute with virtually no fanfare. How little? I am virtually the only US journalist to have noted it. Here is the Baucus amendment in the tax cuts bill. If the entire bill had been allowed by the Republicans to come up for a vote, Senators could vote on each of these items, and a simple majority, such as the 53% above, would likely have renewed them.
Baucus Amendment 4727: To change the termination date , by extending till December 2011, these renewable energy provisions of The Recovery Act:
1. Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – cash in lieu of tax credit for businesses not making a profit and unable to take the 30% tax credit on building utility-scale solar projects
2. Tax credits for heavy hybrid and natural gas vehicles and a 30% investment tax credit for alternative fuel refueling stations.
3. Tax breaks for ethanol, 36 cents a gallon for blenders, and 8 cents a gallon for small producers. A 54 cents per gallon tariff on ethanol imports.
4. A $1-per-gallon production tax credit for biodiesel and biomass diesel and the small agri-biodiesel producer credit of 10 cents per gallon extended through 2011.
5. A 50-cent-per-gallon tax credit for biomass and other alternative fuels.
6. Tax credits for energy-efficient appliances and homes.
8. Adding $2.5 billion in funding for Section 48C the advanced energy manufacturing 30% tax credit for companies manufacturing advanced clean energy products and materials.
9. Reinstating the Research and Development tax credit.
Unlike democratic nations in Europe and Israel, in the US, a very powerful fossil fuel industry has long been able to prevent renewable energy bills from passage, through the misuse of the filibuster by Republican proxies in the Senate, funded by the industry. So, to pass renewable energy policy here, Democrats must slip the language into unrelated bills and hope to get them past the ogre at the gate.
It is simply foolish in the US for Senators to openly espouse a renewable energy policy here, because the media is fully controlled and the airwaves are blanketed with blowhards from the Heritage Foundation, The American Enterprise Institute and Americans for Prosperity and other front groups, all put in place to shoot down any policy that would help move the US off fossil fuels.
It’s a silly way to run a supposedly first-world democracy. But that’s how it is.
As a result, US clean energy policy has to be slipped into unrelated bills, a little at a time, with the hope that it won’t catch the attention of the big money devoted to keeping the status quo. Thus, the production tax credits credited for building wind energy were attached to a must-pass vote on the Bush bank bailout of 2008.
That is why most of what passes for renewable energy policy in the US was slipped into The Recovery Act, the 2009 bill to stimulate the economy after the Great Recession, and passed during a brief three month period when the Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority before Teddy Kennedy died.
And now that The Recovery Act is set to expire, so is US renewable policy. This now crippled democracy seriously needs outside help!
More on clean energy politics:
Luz Rises Again, as BrightSource, in California
Jordan Politics Hampers Climate Change Event
Obama Tried to Get Saudis on Board with Copenhagen, Wikileaks Reveals
Please Truth-Bomb the US Voter!