Trump win upends agenda expectations; energy bill in peril

Source: Geof Koss, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2016

The unexpected strong showing by Republicans in yesterday’s historic elections will reverberate through the lame-duck session of Congress that starts next week, as a newly empowered Grand Old Party enters legislative negotiations knowing it will fully control the levers of power in Washington, D.C., in just over two months.

The GOP clean sweep, in which Republicans kept control of the House and Senate with far fewer losses than expected, and Donald Trump won the White House, caught nearly all pundits and political experts off guard.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said this morning that he planned to meet with Republican President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team to help determine the lame-duck agenda and what leaders should punt to next year.

Ryan, speaking from his home district, declined to offer any specifics about what legislation might move in the post-election work period that starts next week.

“It is very exciting to be going into a lame duck where we have a Republican president following right after it,” Ryan said.

But talk of a lame-duck confirmation fight for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, evaporated overnight.

Republicans will see their hands strengthened in discussions for funding the federal government after the Dec. 9 expiration of the current continuing resolution.

A factor that will no doubt affect negotiations is the always thorny issue of policy riders. Republicans have for years tried to enact dozens of them.

Ed Krenik, senior principal for government affairs at the law and lobbying firm Bracewell LLP, said GOP leaders will have to weigh whether to pass a short-term CR, essentially leaving major appropriations decisions to the next Congress and the Trump administration.

However, during a post-election webinar this morning, he said lawmakers generally like to complete appropriations during the congressional session in which they began the process. Krenik said things could go either way.

Top Trump backer Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) last night threw cold water on the notion that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal will see a vote on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks, as the Obama administration has angled for.

“I think the TPP is dead, and there will be blood all over the floor if somebody tries to move that through the Congress anytime soon,” Sessions told the New York Observer, the news website owned by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Energy bill chances drop

The upcoming political shift may also dim prospects for the energy conference committee, which is aiming to strike a deal on what would be the first new major reform law in a decade.

Before the election, ClearView Energy Partners LLC recently said there was a 60 percent chance that negotiators would come up with a compromise similar to the Senate’s version, S. 2012.

But the firm’s analysis was under a base-case scenario where Hillary Clinton won the White House, Democrats took control of the Senate by a slim margin and the House stayed in GOP control with a diminished majority (E&E Daily, Nov. 7).

Today, ClearView lowered the odds of a successful outcome to 30 percent. “In our view, imminent Republican control of the House, Senate, and White House is likely to weaken GOP motivation to push a consensus energy bill across the line,” it said.

Alternatively, Republicans may want to “keep the final bargain in reserve to demonstrate bipartisanship early in the New Year” or to use as evidence of Democratic “stonewalling consensus legislation,” ClearView opined.

Republicans may also wish to wrap up the conference process and move a final bill “while they still can,” given the likelihood of continued gridlock, the firm argued.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who won re-election last night and will continue on as committee leader, told reporters in September that she was aiming to complete the bill during the lame-duck session, regardless of the election’s outcome.

A Murkowski spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the energy bill deliberations this morning.

Critics of the energy bill, however, have been pessimistic about the odds of an agreement for weeks, even before the election results.

Thomas Pyle, the president of the industry-backed American Energy Alliance, told E&E News today that the GOP sweep will further diminish the odds of success for the conference committee.

“I think the energy bill is probably not going to happen,” he said in an interview. “There’s no real strong constituency out there. I don’t believe there’s enough momentum now for that bill, especially when you have a whole new ball game in D.C.”

He went on: “I don’t see a compelling reason why they should spend a lot of political capital in the lame duck to advance that bill when they can fold it into what they’re going to be working on next year.”

Lobbying in favor

In a statement congratulating Trump on his victory, Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan called on lawmakers to finish the energy bill before the end of the year.

“No matter how citizens voted, I believe that what unites us all is we want Washington to get back to work on common-sense solutions and on cultivating bipartisanship where it can be found,” she said.

“A good starting point would be Congress returning to Washington in the lame duck and passing an energy bill that includes strong, cost-saving energy efficiency provisions that enjoy such broad support.”

The election results could boost efforts to extend a number of ebbing or already expired energy tax incentives, which faced uphill odds during the lame duck.

“Republicans may also have newfound willingness” to move on extenders “while they still can,” ClearView said, given the Trump administration’s expected opposition to renewable energy breaks.

Curt Beaulieu, a former Senate Finance Committee staffer and Bracewell attorney, told the webinar that Republicans may push to extend renewable credits they support under the “cover” of Obama’s lame-duck presidency, given the opportunity and uncertainty in the next Congress.

While broad tax reform is expected to be a major focus next year, members won’t want to risk seeing favored breaks disappear as they wait for that effort to bear fruit.

One danger for Republicans is stuffing an extenders package full of pet provisions. “I think the only problem Republicans have to be cautious about is that if they keep on adding ornaments to the Christmas tree, it runs the risk of toppling over,” Beaulieu said.

Reporters Hannah Northey and George Cahlink contributed.