The House rejected a bill Tuesday aimed at repealing a slew of light bulb efficiency standards that conservatives have targeted as an egregious example of federal overreach.
The Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act, sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), failed on a 233-193 vote, with a two-thirds majority needed for passage.
The bill would have repealed provisions in a 2007 energy law requiring that traditional incandescent light bulbs be 30 percent more energy-efficient starting in 2012.
Even if the House had moved the bill forward, it would likely have been dead on arrival in the Senate, where companion legislation faces major opposition from Democrats. The White House also opposed the legislation, bashing the House bill on Monday.
The light bulb standards had become something of a high-profile cause for top conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, who cast it as a “light bulb ban” that would force consumers to purchase more expensive bulbs.
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Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said the legislation is “symbolic” of the frustration conservatives feel over overreaching laws and regulations.
“It is just another government intrusion in our lives, and in the context of ObamaCare, telling us what kind of health insurance we have to buy, I think people are just increasingly aggravated that the government is telling us what kind of toilets we have, what kind of light bulbs we have, what kind of health insurance, so I think it is just coming to a boil outside,” DeMint told The Hill on Tuesday in the Capitol.
Yet the light bulb efficiency standards haven’t always been this controversial.
In fact, raising light bulb standards won significant bipartisan support in 2007 and was signed into law by President George W. Bush as part of sweeping energy legislation.
Current House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) co-sponsored the light bulb efficiency language, and came under fire during his campaign for the Energy panel chairmanship over his past support for higher standards.
Upton now has changed his tune. He worked behind the scenes with Barton on a new version of the bill introduced last week, and voted in favor of the legislation Tuesday.
“It was never my goal for Washington to decide what type of light bulbs Americans should use,” Upton said in a statement. “The public response on this issue is a clear signal that markets — not governments — should be driving technological advancements.”
Much to the frustration of Democrats who would have been happy to highlight Upton’s apparent change of heart on the standards, the Energy panel did not hold any hearings on the legislation. Instead, it was fast-tracked by Republican leadership and considered Tuesday under a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority.
In a letter last week, Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Energy panel, slammed Republicans for neglecting to hold hearings or a markup on the legislation.
"[The bill] was introduced earlier this week, on July 6, 2011. Obviously, the committee has not had the opportunity to hold hearings on the legislation," Waxman and other Democrats on the panel said in the letter. "Moreover, the committee has not held any hearing — legislative or oversight — on the subject matter of the legislation."
Democrats blasted the legislation during debate on the measure Monday night, targeting Republicans like Upton who once supported the light bulb efficiency standards.
"This used to be something that we all agreed upon," Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said.
“So what we have is an attempt to repeal a proposal that was offered by our current chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, the gentleman from Michigan, and former Congresswoman Jane Harman [D-Calif.],” Waxman said, referring to Upton. “It passed on a bipartisan voice-vote with members of both sides of the aisle speaking in favor.”
Democrats said LED (light-emitting diode) and CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs might be more expensive at the point of sale, but will save consumers money in the long run.
Environmental and energy-efficiency groups have mounted a campaign to oppose Barton’s legislation, running advertisements in Capitol Hill newspapers praising the light bulb efficiency law.
On a conference call earlier this week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said the legislation was part of a broader effort by House Republicans to dismantle the country’s environment and public-health laws.
Pointing to efforts by House Republicans to move spending bills that cut key clean-energy programs and block the administration’s environmental policies, NRDC spokesman Bob Keefe said Monday that this week is “one of the worst weeks in recent history for environmental and public health issues in America.”
Conservative groups say they will continue to fight the light bulb law.
Nick Loris, a policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Tuesday’s House showdown is not the end of the group’s work on the matter.
“The light bulb is a tangible and symbolic representation of too much government intrusion,” he said ahead of the vote, adding that conservatives will continue to seek repeal of the light bulb law and other energy-efficiency mandates that “dictate choice.”
“These issues will still be on the table,” he said.
Ben Geman and Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this story.