This week, as Congress and the White House worked feverishly on a deal to avoid the catastrophic economic fallout of not raising the debt ceiling, Republicans found a really, really important issue to rush through the House. This issue was so important that the bill got fast-tracked, bypassing committee hearings and regular legislative order to head straight to the House floor.
The issue? Light bulbs.
I am not making this up. In the face of losing the full faith and credit of the United States Treasury, Republicans got all fired up about revoking energy efficiency standards for light bulbs. These standards were introduced by Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan and signed into law in 2007 by President George Bush. The standards require that light bulbs use less power to put out the same amount of light.
The benefits are substantial, both on a national and household level, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. They include saving Americans $12.5 billion a year in lower energy bills, reducing energy consumption by the equivalent of the output of 33 large power plants a year; and putting 100 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide pollution yearly in the air, roughly the amount from 17 million cars. All the major manufacturers —G.E., Philips and Sylvania—already sell bulbs that meet the 2012 standards.
But House Republicans don’t care. It is this intractable, infantile obsession with the trivial that led the New York Times’ David Brooks, one of the few remaining voices proving “intellectual conservatism” isn’t an oxymoron, to conclude, “…the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.”
My favorite part of the debate was when Rep. Joe Barton of Texas declared, “This is about more than just energy consumption, it is about personal freedom.” This is the same group of House Republicans that spent much of this spring obsessed with taking away women’s personal freedom and access to health care. If Planned Parenthood starts selling incandescent light bulbs will House Republicans leave them alone?
But there is a larger conversation to be had here about the takeover of mainstream Republicans by the fringe. It’s not just old-school light bulbs Tea Party Republicans miss.
They’re nostalgic for a whole lot of things. They want to return us to the pre-Roe and pre-Griswold days on reproductive rights, turn back the clock on voting rights, revoke health care reform, and regress to an economy and an economic gap that more closely resembles the robber baron era of the early 1900s. Sen. Rand Paul, the guy who’s not too sure about the Civil Rights Act, has spent several committee hearings berating Department of Energy officials about low-flush toilets.
No wonder Tea Party Republicans can’t negotiate normally on the debt ceiling. They’re too busy staring at the lights.