Lawmakers not ready to give up on energy and water bill

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, May 27, 2016

Senior appropriators are frustrated over the unexpected defeat of the House’s energy and water spending yesterday, but they also believe there’s a chance the measure will still make it to the president’s desk.

The House rejected the $37.4 billion H.R. 5055 after two days of debate that had seemingly put it on a path to final passage.

But 130 Republicans, frustrated over a provision aimed at barring discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers by federal contractors, sided with all but six Democrats, who opposed spending levels and policy riders, to defeat the bill with almost no advance warning.

“I’m very disappointed that this bill could not clear the House today, but I remain dedicated to working this bill and all other appropriations bills through regular order,” said House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). “Today’s result will not stop our process, but is merely a temporary pause.”

Rogers sought to play up the measure’s conservative bona fides, noting that 70 percent of its spending increases go toward nuclear programs vital to national security.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member on the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said she was “very disappointed” with the outcome because she believed House and Senate differences on the measure could be resolved.

She said LGBT provisions and proposals blocking administration policies, including the new Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule, do not belong on an infrastructure spending bill.

“I am hopeful that the sun will rise another day,” said Feinstein.

Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who got strong bipartisan backing earlier this month for his chamber’s version of the spending bill, which eschewed policy riders, said, “We are ready to go to conference whenever they are.”

Republicans leaders have said they will take next week’s recess to consider their options for continuing the appropriations process.

They sought to tamp down any talk that the defeat would bring an end to moving individual spending bills and lead to an omnibus funding package.

“When we come back, we will sit down with our members and have a family discussion about how best to proceed, so that the appropriations process cannot be sabotaged and derailed,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said yesterday.

Ryan already has raised the issue of restricting the open amendment process that allows any member to propose changes or additions to the spending bill on the floor without notice.

Ryan floated the idea of returning to a previous practice, last used under a Democratic majority, when amendments were pre-printed in the Congressional Record to provide members with more notice.

Rogers too has signaled an interest in ending the open amendment process for spending bills, which the GOP adopted after it took back the House in 2011.

Push to drop riders

Rank-and-file House Republicans seemed not fully aware of the LGBT provision that Democrats added on Wednesday evening. Many were already skeptical about the legislation.

Republican tweaks to the LGBT amendment failed to placate social conservatives. Outside groups were also pressuring fiscal hawks to turn their back on the legislation.

House Democratic appropriators were highly critical of the energy and water spending bill’s demise. They too are not ruling out the bill returning to the floor, but are using developments to push the majority to strop anti-administration measures.

“This [defeat] puts billions of dollars of federal contracts in limbo for 2017 and beyond,” said top appropriator Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).

Kaptur said that included money “for dredging and port operations in America’s cities, for navigation, for energy innovation and breakthrough technologies, for responsible management and modernization of our nuclear weapons, and long-delayed nuclear cleanup, for solutions for the drought-stricken West, for recovery from Houston’s flooding.”

Kaptur noted that the energy and water legislation usually passes with strong bipartisan majorities, and she chided House GOP leaders as “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight.”

Kaptur has said she believes the House and Senate could send a bill to the president if the GOP is willing to drop riders.

Appropriations ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) also criticized Republicans for adding “divisive and ideological” riders. And she too said Democrats would work with the GOP if spending bills contain “responsible funding levels” and reject “discriminatory riders.”

Both sides said GOP leaders could revive the House bill by sending it back to the Rules Committee, stripping out offending provisions and adopting a new rule for floor debate.

But other lawmakers suggested the partisan flare-up might not be so easily resolved.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) said “of course” when asked if he planned on continuing to propose his LGBT amendment to any fiscal 2017 spending bills on the floor.

He said he is only reacting to GOP efforts to limit discrimination protections for LGBT military contractors in the annual defense authorization bill.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, dismissed a question over whether GOP members might be hurt by opposing the LGBT provisions.

Instead, he questioned the motives of Democrats for helping derail the spending bill even with the LGBT provisions they called for.

Another Republican, Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, said the dispute was not about discrimination but Democrats “trying to shipwreck the appropriations process.”

Mulvaney added that he and other conservatives had opposed the bill over funding levels well before the LGBT issue arose.

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.