The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee may have entered a new era of partisanship.
The committee famous for working across party lines faced heavy resistance yesterday from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky as it marked up its first legislation of the new Congress.
The tea party favorite voted against bipartisan energy efficiency and hydropower measures from panel Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
"I think it's clear that we have more disagreement in this Congress than we had in the last Congress on a lot of issues, and this is one example," Bingaman said after the markup, where the two measures ultimately were approved.
But they did not pass without a fight from Paul.
The efficiency measure (S. 398), which would strengthen and improve energy efficiency standards for a number of consumer products, drew particular attention from Paul. He offered an amendment that would remove the enforcement authority from a broad law that imposes efficiency standards on a number of products. The bill under consideration yesterday would amend that law to add the additional appliance standards.
"I think that to be consistent with a free society, we should make them voluntary," Paul said of the standards, before launching the committee into a discussion of Ayn Rand's 1937 novel "Anthem" about individual choice.
Paul described a scene from the novel in which the protagonist discovers the incandescent light bulb and "he naively thinks that electricity and the brilliance of light would be an advantage for society." But when the protagonist takes the light bulb to the society's elders, they crush it "beneath the bootheel of the collective," Paul said.
In the novel, "the collective has no place, basically, for individual choice," Paul said. "Now, I'm not suggesting that this collective is against electricity, per say, or individualism ... but I am suggesting that we're against choice."
Paul's comments about the light bulb hearkened back to a hearing on the measure last month when he lambasted an Energy Department official for enforcing lighting and toilet efficiency standards.
"We are having our choices taken away," Paul said at yesterday's markup. "It is the collective body saying you're not smart enough to buy a light bulb, to buy a toilet, and therefore we will tell you what to buy."
Paul's amendment ultimately failed, but six other Republicans -- Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jim Risch of Idaho, Mike Lee of Utah and Dan Coats of Indiana -- joined him in supporting it. And three of them -- Barrasso, Risch and Lee -- likewise joined him in opposing the full measure, which nearly passed by unanimous consent through the full Senate last year.
Paul and Lee also opposed a separate bipartisan hydropower bill (S. 629) from Bingaman and seven other lawmakers that would advance hydropower project deployment by requiring better interagency coordination, funding competitive grants for increased production and investing in more research and development.
But that measure, too, ultimately passed on a voice vote.
The panel also reported a medical isotopes measure (S. 99) and the nomination of Peter Lyons to be an assistant secretary for nuclear energy at DOE.
The panel was unable to advance two additional hydropower measures because enough senators left the hearing to attend to other business that they no longer had a quorum. A committee aide said the panel will take up those measures at a markup next month.