Obama's Proposed Budget Pumps Up Support for Electric Cars, Bipartisanship Hard to Come By

By · February 15, 2011

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In the weeks following President Obama's State of the Union Address, the Administration's public campaign to increase support for electric cars and associated infrastructure has been gaining both steam and focus. In coordination with Democratic members of Congress, Obama has renewed his call for the U.S. to become the first country to get 1 million electric cars on its roads by 2015.

Until now this campaign has been mostly of words, with some bills introduced or reintroduced in Congress to support it. But with the unveiling of Obama's proposed federal budget, those words have been turned into concrete steps. As previously discussed by Administration officials, the budget supports a bill from Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to turn the existing $7,500 federal electric car purchase tax credit into an instant rebate at the point of sale.

The proposed budget also brings back the concept of creating electric car "deployment communities." Through a competitive grant process, these communities would receive $200 million of additional funding to help pay for increased EV rebates and accelerate charging infrastructure deployment. The deployment community concept was first introduced in a bill championed last year by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), but which never made it through to passage. It is unclear if the concept still has the bipartisan support it once had.

"The most important thing we can do right now... is to get America back to work," said Merkley. By promoting the research, development and deployment of electric vehicles similar to the bill Merkley and Alexander authored last year, Merkley said the U.S. will "not only create jobs here at home, but reduce [its] dangerous dependence on foreign oil."

But even though electric cars once held broad bipartisan support—and still likely do—the new House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, Fred Upton (R-Mich.), indicated he was unsupportive of such programs. "I am particularly disappointed to see the White House continuing its efforts to manipulate free enterprise—whether on energy or health care or technology—this budget continues to advance policies in which the federal government picks winners and losers, rather than letting the American people and the power of competition identify the most efficient, effective investment of resources," he said.

Even EV-friendly Republican Alexander came out in opposition to the budget—albeit with no mention of electric cars—saying, "I still don’t see a sense of urgency from the president about the massive federal debt. His budget calls for too much government borrowing—even though debt is already at a level that makes it harder to create private-sector jobs."

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