WASHINGTON – After a year of partisan combat and legislative stalemate, President Bush and Democratic congressional leaders came together Wednesday for a holiday season consensus as they enacted legislation to promote energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., joined Bush for their first bill-signing ceremony with the president since Democrats took over Congress in January, using the occasion to look past the disputes that marked a year of divided government.
“The legislation I’m about to sign should say to the American people that we can find common ground on critical issues,” Bush said with Pelosi, Reid and other Democrats at his side during the event at the Energy Department headquarters. “And there’s more we can accomplish together.”
The rare show of solidarity followed a year of clashes over the war in Iraq, children’s health care, spending priorities and other issues. Bush has vetoed six bills this year, compared with the one veto he issued in his first six years in office when Republicans controlled one or both chambers of Congress. Democrats have complained bitterly that he does not accept the mandate they claimed after last year’s midterm elections. But along the way, many Americans have grown disenchanted with the Washington impasse, and public support for Congress has fallen to levels as low or lower than that for Bush.
Even the energy legislation that Bush signed Wednesday emerged only after a staredown over $21 billion in tax increases that lawmakers had included until the president threatened to veto if they did not remove them. But by the time they showed up for the ceremony, both sides were focused on the areas of agreement and claiming credit for pushing it through.
The new law increases the fuel-efficiency standards for passenger vehicles for the first time since 1975, requiring new cars to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020 instead of the 25 mpg now required. It also requires fuel producers to use at least 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels by 2022, a five-fold increase over the current standard, to reduce the dependence on oil. And it includes new rules and incentives to encourage more efficient light bulbs and buildings.
Bush used the occasion to reach out to Pelosi and Reid. “I appreciate your leadership on this important issue,” he told them.
Pelosi said later that she was “pleased to join the president at the signing ceremony” and called it a harbinger of future achievements.
“It did not come easily,” she said during a news conference. “It took a lot of struggle, a lot of convincing. And much more needs to be done. But nothing signaled change more clearly, I think, to the American people than the successful passage of the energy legislation.”
Even as they joined together, though, both sides tried to suggest that the other was the follower. Bush noted that he had proposed increasing alternative energy and fuel-efficiency standards in his State of the Union address to reduce projected gasoline consumption by 20 percent over 10 years. The alternative fuel provision that Congress ultimately passed largely tracked his proposal, although it permitted producers five extra years to meet the goal.