South Dakota Politics recently posted some excerpts from Congressional Quarterly's coverage of last fall's energy/ethanol bill debate. SDP's find deserves more consideration. On November 18, the House passed the energy bill 246-180 and it came to Senate for a vote on November 21. The President had said he would sign the bill. Daschle's deputy, Senator Harry Reid, was leading the Democratic filibuster against the bill, which meant that 60 votes would be needed to end the filibuster. In the end, the supporters of the energy/ethanol bill came up with 58 votes. It was a critical, defining moment for the ethanol industry--Daschle himself said it would create 10,000 jobs in South Dakota. With only two more votes--or with some leadership exercised to break the Democratic filibuster--the ethanol industry would have been given a tremendous boost. It's become old news, but what did Daschle do to secure passage of the ethanol bill? Zippo. According to Congress Daily, he refused to work for passage of the ethanol bill. Instead, he went out and signed copies of his book. Daschle, in a critical moment for ethanol, turned his back on the industry and it cost the industry dearly. As Senator Grassley of Iowa said on the Senate floor, the November bill was the "last train to leave town": "Don't tell me you are for ethanol, don't tell me you are for biodiesel, don't tell me you are for putting general fund money into the road fund to make up for lost revenue from ethanol--and this bill does that. Don't tell me those things if you are not going to help us fight hard to get the 60 votes necessary to break the filibuster." Needless to say, Grassley wasn't happy with Daschle for not working to get two votes, especially when Daschle is so adept at organizing his caucus to block the President's judges. With SDP's opening, it's worth reviewing more of the facts from the November vote by looking at some of Congressional Quarterly's various reports on the bill. First, even after the House passed the ethanol bill it was not clear (CQ, Nov. 18) that Daschle would vote for it. Isn't that a bit odd? Daschle should have been the bill's biggest cheerleader, but he wouldn't take a position. Daschle then said the bill had "profound consequences" for his state and the proponents of the bill said help from the Democratic leadership was critical to passage (CQ, Nov. 19), "[b]ut Daschle said Thursday that he was not pressuring other Democrats to support cloture." (CQ, Nov. 20). Why were Democrats opposed to the bill (besides the generalized opposition to giving the President an election year victory)? Because of the MTBE liability waiver provisions in the bill, which triggered a Schumer-spearheaded filibuster, and which Senator Domenici criticized: "Domenici said MTBE was a legal product mandated and licensed by the federal government and the waiver would shield producers who did not act negligently. 'The big lawyers are not happy with who is left over to sue,' he said. 'That's it in a nutshell.'" For more on the significant connections between the trial lawyers and Daschle see this. Senator Domenici was not shy about how much the failure of the ethanol bill hurt farmers:
Domenici, fighting to win over Democrats from farm states, said, "We have worked harder for the farmers in America than anybody in history. The Democrats are leading a parade to kill the most important provision ever" for farmers. "If I were a farmer, I'd ask who threw it away? They're going to know," Domenici said.
(CQ, Nov. 21). Remember, as SDP noted, that Daschle himself only "reluctantly" voted for the ethanol bill and he did nothing as Democratic leader to convince other Senators to vote for it. And thus Tom Daschle let the ethanol moment pass. On April 27, Senator Grassley reminded his fellow Senators about how the Democratic filibuster, which Daschle did nothing to stop, had undermined the November ethanol bill. That same April 27 Daschle surprised everyone by trying tack the ethanol bill on to an internet taxation bill, which observers saw as a political ploy designed to mitigate the damage of his earlier failure to round up support for the ethanol bill. His ploy only received 40 votes (even the National Corn Growers Association opposed the ploy, as did key Senators from ethanol states such as Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Kansas). Senator Domenici said fair enough, I'll try to tack on the whole energy bill, including the ethanol provisions. Between November and April Daschle said that if those pesky MTBE provisions were dropped he'd get the votes for final passage. Did he? No. Domenici's bill only received 55 votes. Daschle got what he wanted, however, just like Senator McCain predicted, a headline from the Argus Leader saying Daschle was working for ethanol.
UPDATE: I neglected to mention what Daschle did when the April ethanol ploy failed--he blamed Republicans, and John Thune of course, for the bill not passing!