12/24/2011 03:37 pm ET | Updated Feb 23, 2012

Lights Out!

With all the eggnog celebrations about the two month extension of the payroll tax cut, few have remembered that a funny thing occurred on the way to passing the gazillion dollar appropriations bill to keep the government open through the fiscal year (yes, that really happened). We will eventually learn about the "non-earmarks" it contains, but one thing was left off: funding to implement a law written by Rep. Fred Upton and me to create U.S. jobs, save billions for consumers and cash-strapped communities, and remove tons of carbon from the atmosphere in the process.

With support from "radical" corporations like GE and Siemens and "subversive" industry groups like the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, we negotiated an agreement on indoor lighting standards (modeled after a landmark California statute). It became part of the 2007 Energy Act, which was signed into law by the "left-leaning" George W. Bush. Those standards don't ban anything, but they would phase out the famously inefficient 100-watt incandescent bulb by next year while setting the stage for new efficient bulb production in the U.S. -- and the many jobs that entails.

All of this proved to be too much for the Tea Party and its supporters in Congress, who know a dark plot by Big Government to penetrate every American home and abolish consumer choice when they see it. In a one-two punch, Rep. Joe Barton rolled out the Better Use of Light Bulbs -- that would be BULB -- Act, while Rep. Michele Bachmann introduced the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act. (Just this summer she said, "President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want.") Take that, bulb haters! Then, Fred Upton was heckled by his colleagues as he sought the Energy and Commerce Committee gavel for his "sinister" role in the conspiracy. Score again, defenders of bulb choice! And now, the lightning strike: a 9-month freeze on implementing indoor lighting standards created in 2007. Nine months?

According to a senior industry executive, delaying the entry of better bulbs into the market is equal to imposing a $200 tax on every family in the country. Touché, Party of Tea! And pity the misguided Americans who have flocked by the thousands in recent years to big box stores to take part in free light bulb exchanges. What were they thinking? Have they all drunk the Kool Aid, too?

Jane Harman, a Democrat, represented California's 36th District for 9 terms. She left in February to succeed Lee Hamilton as head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.