Deal sets stage for energy and water spending bill to move

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Senate is due to take up the fiscal 2017 energy and water development spending bill tomorrow, after it completes work on separate energy policy legislation (see related story).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced yesterday evening that he had a deal with Democrats to call up the spending bill tomorrow without needing a cloture vote. His announcement suggests that a fragile truce among party leaders to move ahead with appropriations bills, provided they follow the overall spending cap set in last year’s budget deal, is holding.

The legislation would provide a total of $37.5 billion, including dollars for the Energy Department, Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers, in fiscal 2017. It’s a $355 million increase over current spending. And it’s also the first fiscal 2017 bill to move in either the House or Senate.

“We are going to be ready whenever we go to the floor with a bill that a lot of Democrats and Republicans already have a substantial interest in. It doesn’t have controversial riders in it, it’ll be bipartisan. I think it’s a very good bill and I hope we move smoothly,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday.

Alexander said in drafting the legislation, appropriators included the requests of more than 77 senators, but said that would not preclude amendments from being offered on the floor.

For example, Alexander said, a proposal from Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to defund the U.S. EPA-Army Corps’ Clean Water Act jurisdictional rule could be offered. Alexander noted that Hoeven held off in offering it during the committee markup but called the floor the more appropriate place for it be considered.

Alexander said it would be up to Senate leaders to decide if amendments would require a 60-vote threshold to be attached to the spending measure.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the energy and water spending panel, said it was too soon to say if the bill would move smoothly because she had yet to see a list of proposed amendments.

“You have to see how many they are, what they are and what kind of problems they present,” Feinstein said yesterday.

Meanwhile, backers of aid for the city of Flint, Mich., have not ruled out trying to secure funds on one of the fiscal 2017 spending bills.

An effort to attach the money to an energy policy bill, also moving in the Senate this week, faced GOP opposition and was dropped.

“We have another path for doing [Flint aid], but I am not talking about it until it’s signed, sealed and delivered,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who last week dropped her opposition to moving ahead with the energy policy bill without the aid attached. “I would never have lifted my hold if we did not have another path.”

Another option for the money for Flint could be an emergency supplemental spending bill emerging in the House to combat the Zika virus. Democrats in the past have said it could carry the Flint aid.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) last week said the Zika legislation will come if the White House can show it needs the money and provides a detailed request. He said the measure would be narrowly drawn, though, and dismissed suggestions it would provide dollars for Flint.

More than 40 Senate Democrats wrote to Senate GOP leaders yesterday urging them to move ahead quickly on emergency aid for Zika. They said they support a request of $1.9 billion previously outlined by the White House.

“For more than two months, Congressional Republicans have failed to respond to the administration’s emergency funding request,” the letter states. “This renewed push by Senate Democrats comes on the heels of the CDC’s confirmation of the link between Zika infection during pregnancy and severe birth defects like microcephaly.”

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.