MY VIEW/John Warner – The speed limit and sacrifice

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I turn to the question that confronts America today; namely, the energy crisis. I use the word “crisis” advisedly, because today no less than a third of Americans are absolutely struggling night and day to find the funds necessary to meet ever increasing food prices and ever increasing energy prices.

It is for that reason I have taken a step to write the Secretary of Energy to determine what are the facts relating to the 1973-1974 energy crisis, how America addressed that crisis, and the actions taken by the President and the Congress in 1973-1974.

Again, Congress acted unanimously to back the President in imposing a national speed limit, that speed limit for the purpose of lessening the demand for gasoline and hopefully to have consequent savings at the gas pump.

That is a chapter in American history I remember quite well. I was privileged at that time to be Secretary of the Navy. Indeed, the Department of Defense, although at war in Vietnam, came forward and participated to try and help America work its way through that energy crisis. The national speed limit was the centerpiece of that program.

Again, I am not taking a position that at this time we should invoke a new initiative in the Congress to pass legislation calling for a national speed limit because I simply do not have the facts. I am on a fact-finding mission.

But if those facts come forward, as I believe they will, and show that this will help alleviate and lessen the demand at the pump and the cost to the American citizen, then I am quite likely to try and garner support on both sides of the aisle to push forward with this legislation.

I say so because I come back again to about a third of America at this point in time is frantically trying to make ends meet. We have to come up with a solution. We have that duty.

I take pride and push aside any sense of humility because for several years I have stood on this floor and urged offshore drilling, even put forth a measure here in this body which was defeated which called for the right of Virginia and other states to agree to drill offshore for gas. I am not suggesting I brought about a change of thinking in the administration, but the President now supports that concept. But that offshore drilling will not lessen the price today at the pump.

When I read an article about the meals on wheels program where the shut-ins at home, who for economic reasons and physical reasons and other reasons can’t go out and get their meals. They rely upon a system of volunteers to bring the meals to their homes.

But that program is beginning to founder because the volunteers simply cannot afford the additional cost of gasoline. This causes me severe heart palpitations and concern. A reporter said to me, when he interviewed me on this: All right, Senator, are you willing to drive at a slower rate? What sort of car are you driving?

I told him what type of car I drive and I said there are occasions when I drive over 55 miles an hour, 60 miles an hour, sometimes 65. But I am willing to give up whatever advantage to me to drive at those speeds with the fervent hope that that modest sacrifice on my part will help those people across this land tonight and tomorrow and in the indefinite future deal with this financial crisis.

In 1973-74, these were automobiles, how well I remember, without growth of the quick production lines that started after World War II. America was flourishing.

Then all of a sudden, the Arabs put an oil embargo on this country and took away our ability to get fuel. The President reacted quickly. The Congress reacted quickly. We put in that limit. In due course, the pressure on the pump declined and gas fell to about $2 a gallon.

In 1995, 20 years after the enactment of this legislation by the Congress and the President, the 55 miles was lifted. Mind you, it wasn’t one President; it was a series of Presidents who endorsed this program of conservation in terms of the reduction of speed.

At one time I used to be a pretty good mechanic on automobiles, but they have now gotten a degree of complexity that is beyond my grasp. I rely on my son, who has devoted much of his life to auto racing.

He is a wonderful mechanic and an engineer on cars. He said the carburetion system–he argued with me about this when I spent the past weekend with him–shook his fist at me: I don’t want this 55-mile-per-hour limit. And that is good advice. But he said the carburetion systems in cars today are better than they were in 1973 and 1974, and I judge that to be the case.

We have to get the facts and put them together.

I ask my colleagues, as they proceed to work on this issue–and I am all for the renewables, but that is long term. Offshore drilling is also long term.

We have to focus now on what measures we can take to help people now, if not long term. I know colleagues are getting the same calls and the same letters I am receiving from those people who, frankly, feel very oppressed by this rapid development.

Although it has increased basically a dollar a gallon in the last year, so much of it has come on in the last 120 days, unanticipated in speed and causing great hardship here at home.

Senator John Warner (R-VA) delivered these remarks last Tuesday on the Senate floor.

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