Riders, spending in play as Congress returns for final stretch

Source: George Cahlink, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Congress returns today for a frenetic, two-week stretch, with lawmakers scrambling to assemble a spending bill that may contain tax and energy provisions. They also hope to settle leadership fights, including a battle for the House Energy and Commerce gavel.

“We’ve got a lot to do, including approving several conference reports and funding the government,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday.

Lawmakers’ main task in the coming days will be to pass another stopgap funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, to avert a government shutdown when current spending authority runs out on Dec. 9.

Congress needs to move a CR because it failed to pass the vast majority of its spending bills, including for U.S. EPA and the Interior and Energy departments.

Neither party sees a government shutdown as a viable option, but there is not yet consensus on Capitol Hill on how long a CR should last.

McConnell said on the floor yesterday that Congress would “work to pass” spending legislation but did not say anything about its duration.

House GOP leaders want the CR to last into the spring. That would allow them to make final spending decisions for the fiscal year that runs through Sept. 30 in concert with the Trump administration.

But Senate Republicans have not yet agreed to that plan. They could wind up siding with Democrats and President Obama in wanting Congress to wrap up fiscal 2017 work by funding the government now through September.

“We are going to fund the government. It’s just a question of how long. I’d rather do it for a year if we are going to do it. I want keep next year open” for the new administration’s agenda, said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate leadership.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) is writing a CR that would run through March 31. A House aide said that proposal likely won’t be released until next week.

“We are in the process now of switching gears from trying to do an omnibus [spending package] to a CR, and therefore anomalies are in play,” said Rogers.


Even though the CR would keep most spending at current levels, agencies often ask for tweaks, called anomalies, to deal with pressing issues.

Interior, for example, wants to free up fresh funds for the presidential inauguration. EPA wants money to begin implementing a new chemical safety law.

Stopgap spending legislation will also likely contain other more significant funding changes and, perhaps, policy provisions. It remains one of the last major pieces of legislation Congress will move before adjourning.

Among the increases in play are hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency money to help Flint, Mich., address its lead water crisis.

Help for Flint is already part of Water Resources Development Act reauthorization bills in both chambers. But lawmakers may not be able to come up with a compromise, particularly because the measures are almost $5 billion apart (see related story).

The administration has also asked for $11.6 billion in emergency spending for various military and counterterrorism operations overseas.

Generally, there is bipartisan support for military and war-related spending on Capitol Hill. But Democrats would likely want concessions to let it ride on the CR.

Energy bill, taxes

Talks continue between House and Senate negotiators over energy reform legislation, which could move in the closing days of the congressional session (Greenwire, Nov. 28).

But if lawmakers fail to reach a deal, it’s possible that some of the bill’s bipartisan provisions could be instead tacked onto the CR.

McConnell cited the ongoing energy work yesterday. “I would encourage colleagues on both sides to continue working together so that we can complete our work soon,” he said.

Year-end funding measures also have a history of carrying tax riders. Democrats have been lobbying for months to extend allowances for renewable energy sources left out of last year’s deal.

There’s also a push for expanded credits for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. Bills in both chambers have bipartisan support, including from McConnell and Rep. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Coal interests and environmentalists have said the existing 45Q credit is too restrictive and is holding back CCS projects (Greenwire, July 15). Last week, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) sent McConnell a letter urging action.

Miners, sage grouse

Backers of CCS often talk about the technology as a way to make coal viable amid concerns about global warming. The stopgap spending bill may also include legislation to help miners, particularly those at risk of losing United Mine Workers of America retiree benefits.

Last year, McConnell yanked a version of the “Miners Protection Act” from spending legislation, saying he wanted the issue to go through regular order (Greenwire, Nov. 22).

The latest version, S. 3470, passed the Senate Finance Committee earlier this fall. But time is running out for it to move as a stand-alone measure. McConnell’s office cited “ongoing discussions.”

Separately, lawmakers are also closing in on a bicameral deal on the defense authorization bill. It could settle a long-running dispute over a House proposal to scale back protections for the sage grouse.

The issue has put House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who supports the grouse provision, against Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.). If negotiators fail to reach a compromise, some defense language could also ride in the CR.

Leadership, gavel fights

Beyond legislation, this week is key for lawmakers to finish organizing how their leadership structures will look next year.

House Republicans are expected to pick the next chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the coming days. The current chairman, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), is term limited for the spot.

The race has largely been a contest between committee veterans Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.). The committee’s former chairman, Joe Barton (R-Texas), is also making a long-shot bid to reclaim the gavel.

Walden has emerged as a slight favorite for the post after his work as the chairman of the House GOP’s campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Walden won praise for helping keep party losses below 10 seats. In the weeks leading up to the election, analysts said the GOP could lose as many as 20 seats.

The House Republican Steering Committee is set to interview the Energy and Commerce candidates this week and vote on its recommendation soon after. The entire conference would then vote to ratify the choice.

Meanwhile, Democrats are having their first significant leadership fight in years, with longtime leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) facing an upstart challenge from Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

Pelosi, the first and only woman to serve as speaker, remains a heavy favorite to stay as minority leader. Before the Thanksgiving break, she claimed support from two-thirds of the caucus.

Ryan, 43, is making a case for generational change, arguing that Pelosi and other top leaders, including Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), are all in their mid-70s.

Ryan is also pressing the fact that Democrats have lost more than 60 House seats since 2010. He says the party no longer appeals to white, working-class voters.

More Democratic moves

Pelosi moved to shore up her case last week by proposing changes in the leadership structure to include more junior members.

Pelosi is proposing that the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee have three chairs rather than one. She nominated three junior members for the post: Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).

Pelosi has also proposed having the current Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), return for a second tour of duty. And Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth would take the top Democratic slot on the Budget Committee.

The Democrats’ only other competitive race will be for caucus vice chairman. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) is moving up from that slot to chairman. Current holder Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) is term limited.

The vice chair contest is putting two California Democrats, Reps. Barbara Lee and Linda Sanchez, against each another. The winner will be the first woman of color to hold a slot in the House Democratic leadership. Both Lee and Sanchez have League of Conservation Voters lifetime ratings of more than 90 percent.

Observers say the race will test the cloud for the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Lee is a member of the Black Caucus and Sanchez of the Hispanic Caucus.

Reporters Christa Marshall, Dylan Brown, Geof Koss and Arianna Skibell contributed.