Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives sent a message this week to hard-working commuters forced to pay historically high prices for gasoline: Ride a bike.
The message was buried on page 255 of a 290-page bill the Democratic leadership introduced at 9:45 p.m. on Monday night, forced through the Rules Committee at 10:00 p.m., and put up for a "debate" and final vote -- with no amendments allowed -- on Tuesday evening.
Section 827 of the bill defines the "Transportation Fringe Benefit to Bicycle Commuters."
It says: "The term 'qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement' means, with respect to any calendar year, any employer reimbursement during the 15-month period beginning with the first day of such calendar year for reasonable expenses incurred by the employee during such calendar year for the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair and storage, if such bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee's residence and place of employment."
Bottom line: Employers could count as a deductible business expense a tax-free $20 monthly reimbursement to workers who bike to work.
Meanwhile, the bill, as explained to me by Republican congressional sources who combed through it in the hours before and after it passed, would effectively outlaw development of America's vast offshore oil resources.
Let me give you two alternative scenarios.
Under scenario one, as the law now stands, the moratorium on selling new offshore oil-drilling leases on 85 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) will expire in less than two weeks. That is because the moratorium is part of the fiscal 2008 Interior Department appropriation, which expires on Sept. 30.
After that date, Interior could begin preparations to sell new offshore oil leases, a process that under existing laws takes two years.
Unless President Bush or the next president signs a new law extending the offshore oil-drilling ban past Sept. 30, Interior would be able to sell leases for any part of the U.S. OCS that is more than 3 miles off the beach. (The first 3 miles are state territory, except on the Gulf coasts of Texas and Florida, where state control extends to 9 miles.)
Anti-drilling forces would still have two shots at killing these leases. First, the governor of the state off whose shores the leases sit could appeal to the secretary of interior under a provision of the OCS Lands Act. Under this provision, the secretary would have to balance the national interest in drilling against the state's interest in not drilling, and then make a ruling.