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Senate Votes to Allow Electric Car Charging in Garages

After more than a month of uncertainty, the Senate has passed a bill to facilitate charging electric cars in Senate garages.

The legislation was brought to the floor by unanimous consent this evening as the chamber prepared for a weeklong recess. It was passed by voice vote.

A bipartisan group of Senators had been working for several weeks to expedite consideration of the measure, which they said would come at no cost to taxpayers.

With Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) spearheading the efforts, supporters had originally wanted the Architect of the Capitol to install formal recharging stations.

But in the year since the bill was introduced, stakeholders have shifted to a cheaper alternative: designating parking spaces near electric outlets and allowing Senators and staffers who drive electric cars to supply their own extension cords to plug in their vehicles.

Under this concept, the AOC would only need to supply the manpower to label the parking spaces accordingly and to collect monthly fees from individuals to pay for the electricity to charge their vehicles. An Alexander aide said these payments would likely exceed what it would actually cost to recharge an electric car battery, ensuring that taxpayers are not fronting any portion of the fees.

Despite insistence of the fiscal soundness of the plan and persistent lobbying of their peers, Levin, Alexander and Schumer failed last month to assuage the concerns of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said at the time that he would block all efforts to move the bill through the legislative pipeline.

“Sen. McCain objected to passing the measure by unanimous consent because there’s no demonstrated need for spending thousands of dollars to install electric car charging stations,” McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said in April. “This is an expensive perk for Senators not enjoyed by average Americans.

“If the measure is such a priority, the Majority Leader can schedule floor time on it whenever he sees fit, allowing the Senate to debate and vote on it in the light of day,” Rogers said.

Industry groups such as the American Public Gas Association and Natural Gas Vehicles for America argued that the measure could send a message that Congress favors one fuel source over another.

This afternoon, McCain told Roll Call, with a laugh, to write the following headline: “John McCain Wimps Out Again!”

“Look, it’s a very important issue to them, minimal cost. They are very interested in making sure they can plug in their electric cars,” McCain said of his colleagues, adding that keeping the bill from becoming law was “not my highest priority.”

The legislation would affect only Senate garages, but it still must be passed by the House and signed by President Barack Obama to take effect.

Conventional wisdom might indicate that the bill will win House passage in keeping with a tradition in which one side defers to the other side’s chamber-specific priorities, but the House GOP leadership has not commented on the proposal.

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