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House Turns Out the Lights on Bulb Ban

The House on Tuesday failed to stop a scheduled phaseout of incandescent light bulbs.

The Republican-controlled House voted 233-193 in favor of legislation that would seek to overturn light bulb energy-efficiency standards and keep the marketplace clear for the cheap, energy-wasting bulbs that have changed little since Thomas Edison invented them in 1879.

But the legislation required 285 votes, or a supermajority, to clear the House.

Republican opponents of the new, curly fluorescent light bulbs said they were another example of an overreaching government that is forcing Americans to buy health insurance, prodding them to get more fuel-efficient cars and sticking its nose into too many places it doesn't belong.

But for most Democrats, it was an exasperating debate that, just like the old incandescent bulbs being crowded out of the market, produces more heat than light.

The standards in question do not specifically ban the old bulbs but require a higher level of efficiency than the classics can produce, essentially nudging them off store shelves over the next few years. Four of Edison's descendants said the great inventor would be mortified to see politicians trying to get the nation to hang on to an outdated technology when better bulbs are available.

The standards have not been particularly contentious before now. They were crafted in 2007 with Republican participation and signed into law by President George W. Bush. People seem to like the new choices and the energy savings they bring, polling finds.

But now they have become a symbol of a much larger divide in Washington over the size and reach of government itself. The new bulbs suggest to some conservatives that big government is running amok.

"Now the government wants to tell consumers what type of light bulb they use to read, cook, watch television or light their garage," said Rep. Michael Burgess, a Republican.

"I'm not opposed to the squiggly tailed CFLs," said Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican and the driving force behind the effort to save the old incandescents and sponsor of the bill to overturn the standards. But making the old bulbs go away "seems to me to be overkill by the federal government."

The Obama administration, which opposes Barton's bill, had said the lighting standards that are being phased in will save nearly $6 billion in 2015 alone. The Energy Department says upgrading 15 inefficient incandescent bulbs in a home could save a homeowner $50 a year. Lighting accounts for about 10 percent of home electricity use.

Fox News' Chad Pergram, John Brandt and The Associated Press contributed to this report.