ANDREA SEABROOK, Host:
Alongside the Energy Bill, a new piece of legislation aims to eliminate a tax loophole that allows small businesses to write off the cost of large pickup trucks and luxury SUVs. Congressman Ed Markey calls it the Hummer tax loophole. The Massachusetts Democrat is the chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. And he's here in our Washington studio. Tell me what your bill would do? It would close what you call the Hummer tax loophole. What is the Hummer tax loophole?
ED MARKEY: There actually is a tax break, which gives a very favorable tax depreciation schedule to people who buy Hummers or vehicles like Hummers - the largest vehicles. It gives them a $25,000 additional tax break.
SEABROOK: And this is for small businesses?
MARKEY: This is for anyone who says that they need this for some business purpose. So what it says to a small businessperson is that you actually get a break if you buy the bigger vehicle because the tax code isn't going to give you that same huge tax break.
SEABROOK: Now the original purpose of this, as I understand it, was to give tax breaks to business people who need large pickup trucks and large vehicles. These aren't necessarily millionaires running off to buy Hummers, right?
MARKEY: No. It was intended for, basically, people who needed it. If you ran a limousine service, for example, or you're a contractor who needed a larger vehicle. But what it morphed into was something that allowed just about anybody to claim it once they said that they were a businessman and so - or woman. And so if the Hummer tax loophole wasn't on the books and there was an even tax depreciation schedule across the board for all vehicles, the Congressional Budget Office reckons that the federal budget would save $4 billion.
SEABROOK: Four billion dollars a year? Four billion dollars every...
MARKEY: It would be $4 billion tax savings over a five-year period.
SEABROOK: Mr. Markey, you're chairman of this new committee that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set up shortly after taking her post - the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. What authority does your committee have? What jurisdiction does it have in this energy bill that it seems like so many different committees have a piece of?
MARKEY: Well, on the day that she announced the creation of the committee, she made it clear that this committee did not have legislative jurisdiction.
SEABROOK: If you let me be a little blunt for a second, though, if a committee doesn't have legislative jurisdiction in the Congress, is it really relevant to anything? And tell me what can it do.
MARKEY: When the speaker of the House announces that she is going to create only one select committee for her first two years in Congress, and that it's going to be the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, it not only gets the attention of the American people, it gets the attention of every member of Congress as well. And it also gets the attention of NPR so that they invite the chairman of that committee on to a show to talk about what it is that the speaker and that committee is all about. And so the very fact that I'm sitting here proves that she was correct.
SEABROOK: Let's move on to the energy bill. Can you describe to us some of the pressures from business groups, from special interest groups around this bill? This is not an easy thing to hammer out.
MARKEY: Well, obviously, some of the most powerful interest in the United States are going to be affected by this legislation, the automotive industry, the coal, the gas, the oil. And on the other side, there is a pent-up desire on the part of the American people, according to just about every poll, to deal with this issue of energy independence and global warming. And so public opinion is now colliding with powerful special interest in an effort to hammer out legislation, which will move us away from the agenda, which has dug us a hole that has us very dependent upon imported oil.
So there is a huge pressure that is being applied by the American people and coming back from the other side, all of these traditionally powerful industries that are still resisting real change, and out of it, we have to forge legislation which moves us in the right direction.
SEABROOK: Thank you very much for joining us.
MARKEY: Thank you for having me.
SEABROOK: Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey is the chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.