Senate finishes energy and water bill, strikes Zika deal

Source: Geof Koss and Hannah Hess, E&E reporters • Posted: Monday, May 23, 2016

The Senate this afternoon easily passed the $37.5 billion energy and water development spending bill. Lawmakers also touted an agreement to spend $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus.

Senators voted 90-8 for the energy and water bill after adopting an amendment by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) setting aside funds in the bill to revise certain water project and flood control documents. The measure passed by voice vote.

Debate on the spending bill was moving along smoothly until Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) offered an amendment last month to bar the Obama administration from purchasing heavy water used in nuclear reactors from Iran.

The standoff led to three failed procedural votes until Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) forced a cloture vote on Cotton’s amendment, which failed yesterday.

Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told reporters this afternoon that today’s vote bodes well for the appropriations process.

“It’s an exercise in human nature always,” he said. “And it always takes a lot of work when you’ve got 100 senators and 80 of them have suggestions on how to do the bill. And we’ve got a complex bill. But I think part of it is that the Senate is a little rusty.”

Alexander noted that today’s vote marked the first time the energy and water bill has crossed the finish line through regular order in the Senate since 2009.

“So about half the Senate has never seen this happen before. And it’s like playing in your first baseball game, so hopefully, this was a good process. Senators liked it, they voted for it in huge numbers, so this ought to make the rest of the process easier.”

The Senate is now moving on to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill, which will be combined with the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending measure.

McConnell this afternoon set up votes on three amendments that would steer funds to fighting the Zika virus. Under a deal announced by senior appropriators earlier today, $1.1 billion would be spent on Zika, $800 million less than the administration’s request.

Alexander said votes on Zika would come next week. Even though Republicans have been reluctant to embrace the administration’s request, they now appear committed to addressing the issue.

“It’s a consensus in our caucus that we need to deal with it now,” he said. “There’s no reason to delay; the only questions now are how much money and how is it paid for. But our consensus is it’s a serious problem and needs to be dealt with now.”