McConnell will ‘take a look’ at energy extenders in lame duck

Source: Geof Koss and George Cahlink, E&E reporters • Posted: Friday, September 30, 2016

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled yesterday that he’s open to extending expiring renewable energy tax credits during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Asked if he was open to fixing what Democrats call a drafting error in last year’s end-of-the-year omnibus spending and tax deal, which extended the investment credit for solar but not other qualifying sources, McConnell responded “yes.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has repeatedly referenced a pledge McConnell made to fix the error, although House Republicans have resisted the sought-after tweak (Greenwire, Dec. 22, 2015).

The fight erupted twice earlier this year, when Senate Democrats unsuccessfully tried to use the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill as a vehicle for the ITC fix and other extenders (E&E Daily, July 14).

Affected sectors have been furiously lobbying to see a fix enacted this year. Curt Beaulieu, a former Senate Finance Committee counsel representing geothermal heat pump makers, today called it imperative for lawmakers to fully extend both the business and residential credits for all technologies.

“Both the business and residential credits are essential to help ensure fair competition and access in the marketplace for clean energy solutions,” he said in an email.

Democrats on both sides of the Capitol have called for the tweak and other energy credits to be extended, but McConnell was noncommittal when asked about that prospect. “We’re committed to taking a look at that before the end of the year,” he said.

Lame-duck prospects

McConnell said his own priorities for the lame duck include finishing the appropriations process and a bipartisan medical innovation bill.

He cast blame on Senate Democrats for the latest breakdown in passing spending bills. Lawmakers approved a continuing resolution yesterday to keep the government open.

“They had an obvious desire to ball up the appropriation process and put us in a CR/omnibus situation,” McConnell said today.

Like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), McConnell indicated he’d prefer “to pass several minibuses” to complete the appropriations process.

“I don’t like omnibuses, but I don’t like CRs either, and the only way we could go would be several minibuses, and we’ll just have to see what we can move,” he said.

Ryan also blamed Senate Democrats for blocking action on fiscal 2017 spending bills and forcing Congress to pass a CR. The stopgap provides funding through Dec. 9.

“My hope is that after the election, they’ll drop their political shenanigans and we’ll get on at doing the serious business of actually appropriating. If we don’t, we’ll do another CR,” he said.

Ryan reiterated that he favored moving packages of three or four spending bills together in minibuses rather than combining them into a single year-end omnibus funding bill.

Conservatives, including Ryan, favor minibuses because they are easier for members to review and amend. Democrats prefer a large bill because they fear the minibuses could leave out funding for some domestic agencies.

Ryan conceded Congress has lots of work remaining on appropriations with one of the 12 annual spending bills soon to be signed into law.

He said he expects appropriators to work over October, so Congress can begin moving the measures as soon as members return in mid-November.

House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she believes appropriators could negotiate bipartisan spending bills. But, she said, the problem is GOP leaders add “poison pill” policy riders to them.

Reid struck a more optimistic tone on appropriations in the lame duck.

“The groundwork has been laid to do a good funding bill for the rest of the year,” he told reporters today. “The budget caps are there. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to do it.”

Down on TPP

McConnell reiterated his opposition to scheduling a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal during the lame duck.

“Let’s just be honest about the political environment,” he said. “Hillary Clinton’s against TPP, Donald Trump’s against TPP, Bernie Sanders is against TPP. And I believe if it was brought up this year, it would be defeated anyway, leading you to raise the obvious question: If you’re interested in America still being in the trading business in the future, in what way is it advantageous to have a trade agreement go down?”

However, McConnell noted that fast-track trade authority will still exist for the next president.

“So I would hope that whoever is elected president we can get back to having a serious discussion to America about being in the trading business,” he said. “America’s been a great trading country going back to the founding of the country, but right now it’s politically toxic, and I don’t think the Congress is ready to tackle it in any kind of positive way.”

In the House, Ryan has said he doesn’t think TPP has the votes to pass, either.

Still, a handful of liberal Democrats today sent a letter to President Obama urging that TPP be renegotiated.

“Too often, our trade deals amount to corporate handouts and worker sellouts,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told reporters during a news conference. “Unfortunately, the [TPP] is one more example of that.”

Asked if he was concerned that Clinton would resubmit TPP as is if elected president, Brown said no. “She’s solid on it,” he said.

While Ryan and McConnell have both said a lame-duck TPP vote is not in the cards, liberal critics of the deal aren’t taking any chances.

Former Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), now U.S. ambassador to China, was in the Capitol earlier this month trying to drum up support for TPP, and opponents expect the administration to pull out all the stops in an attempt to push the deal through before the end of the year (Greenwire, Sept. 14).

Brown said, “We just need to be ready.”