Spending bill impasse sparks Senate acrimony

Source: George Cahlink and Hannah Hess, E&E reporters • Posted: Friday, April 29, 2016

There were no signs of a deal to advance the energy and water spending bill in the Senate yesterday as leaders traded partisan barbs over why the measure got stuck as it neared final passage.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) set another tentative procedural vote for 1:45 p.m. But leaders of both parties said nothing had changed since yesterday, when Democrats blocked an earlier effort to begin wrapping up debate.

Another failed vote would leave the energy spending measure stalled as the Senate leaves tomorrow for a weeklong recess. It was the first test of a fragile accord among Senate leaders to try to pass as many spending bills as possible over the next 12 weeks.

McConnell blasted Democrats on the floor for blocking the legislation from moving to final passage. “Here’s the message to our Democratic colleagues: Do your job. Do your job,” he said.

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) fired backed in unusually personal terms by calling McConnell “the world’s most accomplished hypocrite.”

Reid added that McConnell’s “self-righteous screeds about taking tough votes ring hollow while he leads an unprecedented effort to deny a vote to President Obama’s highly qualified Supreme Court nominee.”

Democrats are blocking the spending bill over an amendment from Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton that would bar the United States from buying heavy water, a product used in nuclear reactors, from Iran.

They said that it’s an attempt to undermine the Iran nuclear deal and that it does not belong on a spending bill that otherwise would easily pass. The White House has threatened a veto over the provision.

Republicans argue the amendment is germane and say it’s fair game after the administration failed to notify Congress of its plans to buy the 32 tons of the water.

Democratic women took to the Senate floor around noon for a series of speeches on the public health threat posed by the Zika virus, another wrinkle in the appropriations process. They want the Senate to act on a request from Obama to provide $1.9 billion in supplemental funds to fight the virus.

“This is about to be a self-inflicted wound on our own people because of our failure to act,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

Breaking with GOP leaders, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called on the chamber to act now on the supplemental funding. “I think this should be dealt with a sense of urgency,” Rubio said.

He predicted it would be “just a matter of time” before there was a mosquito-borne transmission in the continental United States. “There is no such thing as a Republican position on Zika or a Democrat position on Zika,” Rubio said. “Mosquitoes bite everyone.”