Congress clears spending, tax bills with bipartisan vote

Source: Hannah Hess and Geof Koss, E&E reporters • Posted: Monday, December 21, 2015

Congress passed a $1.15 trillion omnibus spending bill and $629 billion package of tax cuts in under three hours on Friday, keeping the government funded through September and lifting the ban on crude oil exports.

In a 316-113 vote, the House easily cleared spending legislation to avoid a shutdown. House GOP leadership rallied 150 centrist Republicans around the bill, while Democrats provided 166 votes.

The Senate then approved the combined omnibus and tax package on a 65-33 vote. With the backing of 27 Republicans, 37 Democrats and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, the chamber sent the measure to the White House to be signed into law.

Six Democrats and 26 Republicans opposed the bill, including presidential contenders Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Missing the vote were Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Path through the House

Although Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) huddled with Western lawmakers yesterday afternoon to quell their reservations over the omission of a number of environmental riders, many said “no” to the deal (E&E Daily, Dec. 18).

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), an appropriator, rejected the bill, as did Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) over a lack of riders to block the Clean Power Plan and the Interior Department’s stream protection rule.

“The most we could get was the oil export, lifting that ban, which was a very good thing. But you traded it away by fully funding the president’s climate change agenda,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who was among the 95 Republican “no” votes.

To rally Democrats, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent two last-minute letters to colleagues expressing “dismay” about the oil export rider but urging their support for the omnibus. Wind and solar credits “will eliminate around ten times more carbon pollution than the exports of oil will add,” she wrote.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) doubted the scramble to corral votes was necessary. Pelosi “gets paid to be the designated worrier, and until you see it across the finish line, you know, you need to worry,” the veteran congressman said after passage. “I don’t think, frankly, the bill was ever really in jeopardy.”

Concerns linger for many Democrats, including the impact on small refineries of exporting crude oil and the omission of certain renewable tax credits. Pelosi called both items “unfinished business” for the new year, saying a “drafting error” left geothermals out of the tax package. She told reporters there would be an attempt to mitigate harm with a tax credit for some refineries.

“The omnibus did a lot more than the oil,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who voted for the bill despite his objections to lifting the ban. “It does open it up, but there’s also the power to shut it down,” he said, citing language that would allow the Obama administration to “close the spigot” if it’s in the national interest.

Senate passage

Speaking ahead of the vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the bill reflected tough compromises by both parties.

“Crafting bipartisan legislation is hard, tedious work,” he said on the Senate floor. “It requires complex calibration of competing interests, needs and realities. The combined omnibus spending bill and tax extenders package is a perfect example of a bipartisan compromise brought in good faith.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hailed the inclusion of a repeal of the 1970s-era crude export ban, calling it a policy “that not only costs American jobs but also strengthens America’s adversaries like Iran and Russia. This will end the absurd position we’re in now where the Iranians, as a result of the president’s deal, can export oil and the United States can’t.”

While the exports deal has been criticized by environmentalists and some Democrats, Reid hailed the five-year extension of the renewable production and investment tax credits as “one of the greatest investments in renewable energy in American history.”

He estimated the tax provisions would reduce the equivalent of carbon emissions from 65 800-megawatt coal-fired power plants, or taking 50 million cars off the road.