Senate energy bill, Flint aid could resurface

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, February 29, 2016

It’s déjà vu all over again for senators, who will return to the Capitol later today to see if the bipartisan energy bill and an aid package for Flint, Mich., can find their way back to the floor this week.

Last week, a bipartisan group of senators thought they were closing in on a deal to set up votes on the energy bill, S. 2012, and a newly hashed-out compromise to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in help for Flint and communities facing similar contaminated drinking water issues.

But, as is common in the Senate, several Republican lawmakers objected to fast tracking consideration of the long-awaited deal, aides said.

One such senator, Texas Republican Ted Cruz, relented last week, but it’s unclear whether other rumored objectors have also had changes of heart.

Senate Energy Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said that Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was also withholding consent, but his office has not responded to requests for comment.

The office of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Friday confirmed he had a hold on the energy bill — which he opposed in committee — but declined to comment on whether the objections extended to the Flint deal. Lawmakers plan to vote on that separately.

Backers of moving forward with the long-stalled agenda are hoping to get an agreement to set up votes on the energy bill, about three-dozen amendments, and the Flint package.

Speaking at the IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston on Friday, Senate Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said members “want an opportunity to view not only the Flint piece.”

She added that “the proposal that we have laid down to colleagues is one that is not only the base bill but it is also a series of over 30 different amendments that we are prepared to take by voice, that even though that consent has been worked out between myself and the ranking member and our leadership, it still needs to be reviewed by colleagues.”

Should a consent agreement materialize, Murkowski said the bill could move “in very short order, and when I say very short order, the time to process eight amendments, we can kick it out in an afternoon and be done.”

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents Flint and has played a leading role in pushing for aid in the House, said Friday he was cautiously optimistic for the Senate push.

“We don’t really know, we’ll see,” Kildee told E&E Daily. “Obviously we think it’s important, and we continue to have conversations over here, not on the assumption but on the hope that we get something back from the Senate.”

Kildee said the House could take up the Senate’s bipartisan aid deal for Flint, if it can clear the upper chamber.

“We’ll see,” Kildee said. “I don’t think there’s anything set in stone, but obviously whatever they’re able to get done over there, assuming that it’s a step forward for Flint, it’s something that I’m obviously going to embrace.”

However, there may be a budget hurdle for Flint backers to overcome. Senate Budget Committee Republican staff say the offset for the $220 million Flint package — cutting Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program — may run afoul of legislative rules because the original 2008 appropriation for the program was emergency spending.

Senate staff on Friday were awaiting a Congressional Budget Office score on the matter, but even if the offset passes muster, any senator could raise a budget point of order against the legislation when it hits the floor. A waiver would require 60 votes, potentially a tough call for Republicans who have made reducing the deficit a top priority.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told E&E Daily on Friday he was unaware of the budget issue but said he’s argued in support of the offset.

“In essence, they’re reprogramming money that I think, a good chunk of it would have gone to Michigan anyway, the auto industry,” he said.

Kildee acknowledged the offset dispute in the Senate but said it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

“There’s always reasons to vote against something, but if people want to do what I think is the right thing, we have a paid-for bill that helps Flint and helps some other communities, as well, so I’m not sure those arguments are sufficient to stop from doing the right thing,” he said.

Reporter Nathanial Gronewald contributed.