Will the Incandescent Light Bulb Receive a Death Row Pardon?

By: July 22, 2011

Republican Congressman Fred Upton’s ill-advised ploy to bring the vote to repeal the incandescent light bulb ban before the House under “suspension of the rules” failed last week.  On Friday, Congressman Mike Burgess, a Republican from Texas,  introduced an amendment to the 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill that would repeal the ban. The amendment passed, on a voice vote, and the bill itself passed in a recorded vote. This Monday, the House sent the bill to the Senate, where it was referred to the Appropriations Committee. Presumably, the Energy and Water Subcommittee chaired by Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois will be the bill’s first stop. Senator Durbin is no friend to free markets, nor is the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Prospects of the repeal amendment emerging from the subcommittee, going on to the full committee, and surviving a vote on the floor of the Senate are not good. If the amendment makes it through all those hurdles, it must next clear the House-Senate Conference Committee before clearing the highest hurdle of all–President Obama’s signature.

There are only two modestly encouraging points to be made about the current status of efforts to repeal the ban: (1) If the repeal survives all the hurdles and is part of the appropriations bill submitted to President Obama for his signature, the President may be hesitant to veto the bill, thereby requiring  the entire Congress to go through another several weeks of debate to pass an appropriations bill that does not contain the repeal of the ban. (2) Congressman Burgess shows creativity and courage by adding the amendment to the appropriations bill.

There’s much not to like about the current situation, however, which seems to resemble the punchline to a joke more than it does a strategic plan with any prospects for success.

Question: How many Congressmen does it take to repeal the ridiculous light bulb ban?

Answer: Apparently, more than a simple majority.

While readers may feel inspired to offer their own versions of  this punchline, mine sums up the irritation many of us in the Tea Party movement have with the Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate.

The ban is such a bad idea a full and open discussion of its merits in front of any House or Senate Committee will do nothing but advance the prospects of its repeal. Such hearings could give the light of day to scientific and factually based arguments that demonstrate the real health dangers posed by the mercury laden CFL light bulbs set forward by General Electric and the other large light bulb manufacturing companies as the preferred alternatives to the current generation of incandescent light bulbs. Public hearings would also show that the the ban has been used as an excuse by General Electric to shut down its incandescent light bulb operations in the United States, chopping 1,500 jobs from Virginia payrolls, and transferring them to Chinese plants where the CFLs are manufactured. In addition, it will give skeptics of the purported energy savings of CFLs over the current generation incandescents a chance to grill the energy zealots and Department of Energy bureaucrats on the merits of their claims.

Holding public hearings, it seems to me, is the best way to go.

While I’ll cheer the repeal amendment on through its Senate hurdles, the realist in me believes that the best chances for a repeal before the executioner’s blade drops on the current generation of 100 watt incandescent light bulbs on January 1, 2012 lies in the House. The Better Use of Light Bulbs Act that failed to reach a two-thirds majority on the House Floor due to a strategic error by Fred Upton now goes to the House Rules Committee for consideration. That committee is chaired by California Republican David Dreier, who is much more likely to be receptive to appeals for public hearings than Congressman Upton was.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series and co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition. His new  e-book, I, Light Bulb: A Death Row Testimonial, was published earlier this week. His new book, Covenant of Liberty, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .

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