How’s this for a good way to scare up a few votes? As debate heats up in the Senate over the energy bill, the White House criticized the Democratic proposal, saying a provision mandating more fuel-efficient vehicles would result in — heaven forbid! — smaller cars and — huh? — more traffic deaths. In a message to congressional leaders, the White House said the fuel-efficiency proposal “would contribute to many thousands of additional passenger fatalities and injuries” by requiring smaller and lighter cars. Supporters of stricter fuel-efficiency standards dismissed the White House statement as fear-mongering, saying that improvements could be made without shrinking vehicle size or imperiling lives. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), who wrote the fuel-economy plan, called the criticisms “hysterical distortion” and “scare tactics” promoted by the auto industry. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a handful of other Republican senators seem poised to sign on to a version of Kerry’s proposal, which would represent the first significant increase in fuel-efficiency standards since the 1980s.