Congressional Democrats planned to wrap up their 100 hours agenda with the introduction last week of an energy initiative raising royalties on federal oil and gas leases, and repealing some of the tax breaks the Bush administration and the Republican-led Congress gave the industry in 2004.
Some will declare victory with passage of the energy bill. But it faces an uncertain future in the Senate, and great resistance from an administration run by and for oil men. And it represents only a limited first step toward solving a huge problem that threatens this nation's future and threatens Israel.
We will never be free of foreign oil — Mexico and Canada are our two top sources — but we should not continue to permit our insatiable appetite to be used to arm our enemies, fund foreign terrorists and allow erstwhile allies to blackmail us.
"Energy should be at the top of the Jewish community's agenda; it is a critical issue that affects our national security as well as Israel's, our environment and our economy," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "It's time to end our long national neglect."
Jews have worried about having enough oil for more than 2,000 years, but the age of miracles is past and more practical measures are called for. The Jewish community must make energy independence its highest lobbying agenda, bringing together its political, intellectual and financial clout.
Congressional and presidential candidates are going to be spending a lot of time wooing the Jewish community between now and Nov. 4, 2008. Instead of settling for platitudes about friendship with Israel, we should challenge every one of them to make energy reform a top priority.
The Bush administration has written energy policy behind locked doors with its industry cronies and contributors, and went all the way to the Supreme Court to protect their identity. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney became multimillionaires in the industry as did other top administration figures; Chevron even named a supertanker for Condoleezza Rice, one of its directors.
"We really don't have an energy policy," said Martin Lobel, a Washington lawyer and energy expert. "Everyone talks a good game, but no one is willing to bite the bullet and do what has to be done, and they won't until they understand the issues. The first job for the Jewish community is to start educating about cost, benefits, implications and needs."
The Bush administration has focused on new domestic drilling to cut dependence on imported oil but not our overall need for it.
Experts like Lobel say there is no single answer. What's needed is conservation, exploration, investment in renewable and alternative resources, hybrid vehicles, mass transit, higher gas taxes and other methods of reducing demand for oil.
Some Jewish organizations have dabbled in the issue, mostly on the fringes, and a few stand out for a more serious efforts. The American Jewish Committee has made energy a centerpiece of its legislative agenda, and is practicing what it preaches by greening its New York headquarters and giving bonuses to employees who buy or lease hybrid cars. The American Jewish Congress, which calls energy independence "an important Jewish issue," successfully pushed the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act in the last Congress to fund alternative energy research in Israel.
But what's missing is a concerted national Jewish legislative strategy, along with a willingness to counter powerful politicians in both parties whose idea of energy policy is giving the oil barons more of what they want. The challenge will be getting the major organizations into the same boat, with each pulling at its own oar like a team member.
Both Presidents Bush have fought wars to enforce the 1980 Carter Doctrine, which declared that we will use "any means necessary, including military force" to guarantee the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to the United States and prevent America's enemies getting control of that "vital" interest.
If we were investing the kind of money on developing alternative energy sources that we're spending on making war to protect Arab oil fields we — and Israel — would be safer, stronger and healthier. What we need is a Jewish coalition for energy independence.
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a Washington, D.C.-based columnist.