Is Congress “Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” by John Meredith

There’s a new TV show in the fall network lineup that says a lot about where our culture is these days:  “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”  

Agreeing to be a contestant on this latest must-see TV will say a lot about contestants before they even open their mouths.  Most game shows challenge participants to demonstrate their smarts.  On this one, they’ll do the opposite. 

It would appear the creative team at Fox arrived at this theme from watching Congress interact with the American public.  The nation’s legislative body regularly does things that assume we are not very bright or attentive.  The current “energy” legislation to improve the miles per gallon we get is a good example. 

Believing that we are not liking $3+ a gallon gas, we don’t want to be dependent on oil from countries run by bad guys who hate us, and that climate change is a concern that many view as real, Congress set out to “do something.” Whenever that happens, prepare to hang onto your wallet with both hands. 

Government always assumes we want more government than we actually want.  When it comes to fuel economy, some in Washington can’t resist using energy policy to do some social engineering – to force us into vehicles that make their political supporters in the industry happy but don’t necessarily meet the transportation needs of the people.  

Without any need for government help, the farmer and wife still buy a pick up truck.  They know what they want and walk right by the row of small fuel-efficient little cars that don’t meet their needs.  Same with families who go right to the SUVs or, lately, the crossover SUVs that have the same space inside but on a car platform that gets better fuel economy.  The point is that folks know exactly what they want or need.  They make the payments so they ought to get to make the choices. 

But, in this case, the Senate decided this situation needed changing.  In the name of saving oil, and without any discussion of affordability, whether it could be achieved, or the very real potential for lots of lost jobs in the automotive industry, the Senate passed a bill requiring all cars and light trucks to perform the same and get 35 mpg fuel economy.  That’s a 40 percent increase. 

Sure, we can get there.  But doing so will involve losing much of the utility that many folks want (like carrying more than four passengers, towing or hauling personal gear).  These future vehicles would use less gas but the cost to do that would be more than what you’d save at the gas pump. 

The House has a proposal in motion that recognizes what folks want-a proposal by Congressmen Baron Hill (D-IN) and Lee Terry (R-NE) that will give people more miles per gallon but in a more reasonable way.

The Hill-Terry legislation, H.R. 2927, is sponsored by 61 Democrats and 110 Republicans.  It would require fuel economy increases between 32 and 35 mpg, but more realistically, because it allows separate standards for cars and trucks. 

Because you are smarter than a fifth grader, you know what best meets your transportation needs.  You know how much you can afford in terms of gas, payments, insurance, etc.  You make your choices accordingly.  Congress doesn’t need to do that for you. Want a hybrid that gets 50 mpg? They are available today and more are coming. 

Only fifth graders will fall for all the hot air about fuel economy.  Smart folks will ask the hard questions to ensure we actually get better fuel economy.  And they will achieve it without sacrificing what many folks value in personal and business transportation.

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John Meredith, CAE, is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21.  His father, James Meredith, was the historic first black student to be enrolled at Ole Miss.  John is the founder and president of the Meredith Advocacy Group (, a lobbying and grassroots firm located in Washington, DC.  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.



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