Senate energy spending bill nears finish line

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Senate is planning to pass its $37.5 billion fiscal 2017 energy and water spending bill today, key appropriators said yesterday

Lawmakers will first take a procedural vote on a controversial amendment by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) related to the Iran nuclear deal. Talk of the amendment has helped stall the broader spending measure.

“Almost every senator has some significant contribution to the bill, so I think we’ll get a good vote,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, also said she expected the spending measure to pass tomorrow. She said a few more amendments may come up, but none appears to be contentious.

Alexander said those amendments could include a proposal from Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) to prohibit Republican River Basin federal water projects that don’t enjoy state approval or comply with the Republican River Compact, which determines how several plains states allocate the river’s water.

The Iran amendment, offered by Cotton, would bar the United States from buying heavy water, a component used in nuclear reactors, from Iran.

Democrats say it would undermine the Obama administration’s nuclear deal. Republicans counter that the amendment is fair game on a bill that deals with nuclear issues.

The Cotton amendments needs 60 votes to move forward, an unlikely threshold given solid opposition from the chamber’s 44 Democrats (E&E Daily, May 10).

Once senators block the amendment, the Senate could move on to any new amendments to the spending bill and then final passage, which is all but certain.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would support the Cotton provision but also stressed the importance of passing the broader spending measure, the first of the fiscal 2017 spending bills to hit the floor.

“Passing it would set a good example for the 11 other appropriations bills,” said McConnell, who has made moving as many of the 12 spending bills as possible a top priority this year.

McConnell also did not rule out packaging a few spending bills together to help speed their passage. Some aides say that could include pairing the transportation and housing spending bill with the military construction and veterans affairs legislation once energy and water is out of the way.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said Democrats would support that strategy provided the bills do not contain any “poison pill” policy riders.

Reporter Hannah Hess contributed.