Senate should have stepped on the gas to OK auto bill

This Just In...

March 18, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

HERE'S WHAT it's come to, friends. The "liberal" Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, opposing in the U.S. Senate higher fuel-economy standards that would have forced American automakers to nearly double the gas-mileage minimums (to a fleet average of 36 mpg) over the next 13 years, and stating her reason: "American women love their SUVs and minivans."

As Miss Peggy Lee once asked: Is that all there is?

Babs, of course, will argue that it's about saving jobs at the GM plant on Broening Highway, and, as always, it's nice to hear her speaking up for workers (without calling them Joe Sixpack anymore).

But here's a fine Irish word, in honor of St. Patrick's Day: Malarky. All Babs did was let the auto industry off the hook again. (Congress has not voted to raise the fuel efficiency standards since 1975, a couple of years after the Arab oil embargo.)

With her vote against the higher standards, Mikulski might have been throwing a bouquet to General Motors. Maybe, in the short term, she'll be able to persuade GM to keep some jobs in the Baltimore area. (The company has said it might close the Broening Highway plant next year because the Astro and Safari minivans it produces are not selling well.)

But wouldn't it make more sense, in the long term - in the Big Picture! - for GM to develop more fuel-efficient and reliable vans? Wouldn't such innovation create jobs in the future, possibly in a retooled Broening Highway plant?

Wouldn't minivans and SUVs make a lot more sense - especially to our loved ones who bought them - if they got 30 or 35 miles to the gallon? Are you trying to tell me that, with all the brainpower in this nation - and a 13-year lead time - mechanical engineers can't come up with lighter, "smarter" minivans and SUVs that would burn less fuel? Isn't Ford already advertising an SUV that it claims will get 40 mpg? Didn't the National Academy of Sciences report the possibility of significant improvements in fuel efficiency without losing size and weight? Didn't Honda say cars and SUVs can lose up to 100 pounds with no impact on safety?

And while I'm asking rhetorical questions: Can't Babs think beyond next year, or the 2004 election? Mikulski warned colleagues that the wrath of "soccer moms" would be heard if the Senate approved the higher standards. Does she think soccer moms are so myopic that they can't see the failings of the very vehicles they drive?

For the record, Paul Sarbanes, our other, quieter senator, voted for the higher standards. The Senate killed the proposal last week, 62-38, voting instead for a study of the issue. Here's a fine American word: Cop-out.

Going out of their way

Carol Beck had a fine lunch the other day at Cafe Bombay on Lombard Street, but left her purse behind. Not that she noticed. With her wallet in hand, Beck suffered no inconvenience and didn't miss the purse until an employee at the cafe called.

"The wonderful guy who found it and his boss had to work hard to figure out who the ditz was who had not called them yet," says Beck. "They found a big-box store membership card with my employer's name, looked it up and tracked me down. You cannot possibly ask for better service, only to be matched by the great food at the lunch buffet."

A rhyme and no reason

TJI cultural correspondent Joey Amalfitano celebrated St. Patrick's Day by telling all innocent bystanders of his recent trip to the Emerald Isle, which he pronounced, in that delicious, home-grown Bawlmerese, as "the Emeril Owl." Joey's favorite story, which I'm sure we're going to be hearing for years, is about how he stumped the bartenders of Kilkenny.

"We drove from Shannon, on the west coast, to Dublin in the east," Joey reported. "In between, my traveling companion, Hilda, and I visited seven beautiful counties. By the time we reached the fine town of Kilkenny, I was stressed from driving our compact car on the left side of the road, or piloting from the right, and from one mountain road too many, with too many sheep. So I set out to buy my favorite brain-dimmer - a nice chilled martini with Bombay Blue and a big fat olive.

"At Pub No. 1, they poured me a Martini and Rossi. At Pub No. 2, the bartender transposed the recipe and produced grog of 99 percent vermouth and a whisper of gin. When I got back to Baltimore, my friends wanted to know why I was not drinking gallons of Guinness. Next trip, that will be the order of the day."

Well, duh.

What can I tell you? Joey is not the most sophisticated of travelers. But you knew that already, and we love him anyway. I feel a limerick coming on.

There once was a Yank who laughed

When friends said to order a draft.

He sought British martinis

In an Irish pub, Feeney's,

And the regulars said, "Sure'n he's daft!"

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