Just a few months ago, after House Republicans held the entire nation hostage over the ill conceived and poorly executed government shutdown, it seemed like Democrats were a lock to keep the Senate and maybe even win a majority in the House of Representatives. But times have changed.
Control of Congress is now in jeopardy for Democrats in the midterm elections because Republicans may be able to successfully convince the electorate that the Obama administration can’t stick by a decision or policy. If the voters agree with this troubling narrative, Republicans may make gains on Capitol Hill despite their inability to pass meaningful legislation or even keep the government open.
The most obvious example of the White House’s indecisiveness has been the Obamacare rollout debacle — that has already pushed back a few major components of President Barack Obama’s signature law. Another example that hasn’t made national headlines but is yet another occurrence of the White House’s indecisiveness is the administration’s recent decision to cut the amount of biodiesel produced in the United States next year.
The biodiesel announcement was puzzling because the president has stated for years that advanced biofuels, such as biodiesel, are a critical component of this nation’s fuel supply. Throughout his presidency and even on the campaign trail, Obama has made his support of advanced biofuels a hallmark of his administration’s efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil.
Biodiesel is not traditional corn ethanol, which I have advocated since the 1980s when I introduced the first renewable-fuel bill in the Mississippi Legislature. While I still support ethanol because it reduces our need to import oil and send American dollars (and military personnel) overseas, biodiesel is different. Made from a variety of renewable resources, such as recycled cooking oil, it is the only fuel to win the EPA’s stamp of approval as an advanced biofuel that has reached commercial production nationwide.
In fact, biodiesel creates thousands of jobs in America while improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is why in 2011, the White House developed a “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” which included provisions to support the biodiesel industry.
But despite the president’s recent support of biodiesel, as you read this, the EPA, which determines the number of gallons of biofuels federally required in the nation’s fuel supply, is soliciting comments on a proposal to reduce the amount of biodiesel sold every year in the United States by hundreds of millions of gallons.
Why the Obama administration is doing this to biodiesel is unclear, but I suspect the White House is planning to deny the Keystone XL pipeline — and offer Big Oil a consolation prize by cutting competition from renewable fuels, even advanced renewables such as biodiesel.
For the thousands of Americans across the United States whose livelihoods are tied to the success of the biodiesel industry, this proposal, if implemented, could mean their jobs disappear. Based on what I am hearing from smaller biodiesel companies from Pennsylvania to Iowa to California, many of them may be forced to close because there won’t be sufficient demand for their product.
Politically speaking, the EPA’s biodiesel proposal is damaging for Democrats’ chances to gain or even maintain seats in Congress because it puts them on the defensive in critical battleground states such as North Carolina and Iowa.
On the other hand, if the president were to oppose this decision by the EPA, he would make it clear to the American people that his administration is serious about reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil, combating global warming and protecting American jobs.
I do want to make it clear: I believe the president is doing his best and deserved re-election in 2012 for stabilizing our economy and leading a sensible foreign policy. But I worry that since he won re-election, the White House has not had a smooth transition from campaign mode to governing.
The best chance Obama has for securing his legacy is a decisive win for Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections. This could break the logjam in Congress and allow the president to sign meaningful immigration, tax and entitlement reform. It would be a shame for both Obama’s legacy and the nation if that opportunity is lost because Republicans can win seats on Capitol Hill by convincing people the White House is rudderless.
Ronnie Shows is a Democrat who represented Mississippi’s 4th District from 1999 to 2003.