No Go: Senate Blocks Consideration of FY 2016 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill

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Publication date: 
8 October 2015

Earlier today the Senate blocked itself from considering the FY 2016 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.  A motion to proceed with the bill’s consideration on the Senate floor that required 60 votes failed by a vote of 49 yes to 47 no votes.  Votes in favor were all cast by Republicans, with one exception; four Republicans joined Democratic senators voting against proceeding on the bill.

This outcome was not surprising as Senate consideration of the FY 2016 Defense and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bills was also blocked by earlier votes.  Although these bills have controversial provisions and funding levels, opposition to floor consideration of the bills by the full Senate is entirely not due to the legislation itself. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the $35.4 billion Energy and Water Development bill in May by a bipartisan vote of 26-4.  Indicative of the bipartisan nature of H.R.2028 was this statement by subcommittee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) who referenced the subcommittee’s top Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein (CA) during the committee’s markup session:

 “The Appropriations Committee’s vote puts us one step closer to doubling basic energy research, strengthening and rebuilding our waterways and ports, removing major obstacles to the use of nuclear power, maintaining our nuclear weapons stockpile and cleaning up hazardous materials left over at Cold War facilities. This legislation is also proof that we are getting the Senate working again -- I thank Senator Feinstein for her cooperation on this legislation, and look forward to its consideration on the Senate floor.”

Alexander’s intention to move the bill to floor consideration was blocked by Senate Democrats who have vowed to prevent any action on FY 2016 appropriations legislation until Congress and the Obama Administration come to an agreement on an overall spending plan for FY 2016.  Negotiations are still in a formative stage, reportedly confined to technical discussions between committee staff.    Congress and the Obama Administration gave themselves more time to conduct these discussions with the passage of a short-term bill providing government-wide funding until December 11.  Appropriators have called for expedient action on a spending deal, warning  that they will need about a month to finalize the twelve FY 2016 appropriations bills for action by both chambers.

Also today was the issuance of a Statement of Administration Policy by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on the Senate’s Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.  In this statement OMB declares:

“Although the bill supports key national security items, the bill drastically underfunds critical investments that develop American energy sources to build a clean and secure energy future; develop and commercialize the emerging technologies that create high-quality jobs and enhance the Nation's economic competitiveness; and improve resilience against current and ongoing climate impacts that threaten our economy, public health, and natural resources. As a result, it would put at risk U.S. competitiveness in new markets for clean energy industries such as advanced vehicles, advanced manufacturing, energy efficiency for homes and businesses, and domestic renewable energy such as wind, solar, and biomass. If the President were presented with H.R. 2028, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

The Statement criticizes the stringent funding levels imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011:

“Sequestration funding levels would also put our national security at unnecessary risk, not only through pressures on defense spending, but also through pressures on State, USAID, Homeland Security, and other non-defense programs that help keep us safe. More broadly, the strength of our economy and the security of our Nation are linked. That is why the President has been clear that he is not willing to lock in sequestration going forward, nor will he accept fixes to defense without also fixing non-defense.

The President's senior advisors would recommend that he veto H.R. 2028 and any other legislation that implements the current Republican budget framework, which blocks the investments needed for our economy to compete in the future. The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to reverse sequestration for defense and non-defense priorities and offset the cost with commonsense spending and tax expenditure cuts, as Members of Congress from both parties have urged.”

The Statement also “share[s] additional views regarding the Committee's version of the bill” as follows:

Office of Science. The Administration appreciates the Committee's support for the Office of Science, in particular the support for capable exascale computing. However, the level of funding provided, which is $0.2 billion below the FY 2016 Budget request of $5.3 billion, would reduce research and development programs throughout the agency and the Administration encourages the Congress to fully fund the FY 2016 Budget request.”

“Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The Administration strongly objects to the $1.9 billion provided in the bill for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Overall, this level is $790 million below the FY 2016 Budget request. Relative to the FY 2016 Budget request, the bill reduces funding for renewable energy by 34 percent, sustainable transportation by 23 percent, and energy efficiency by 35 percent. These reductions would significantly underfund critical activities that support the development and commercialization of clean energy technologies including wind energy and advanced manufacturing capabilities. At this funding level, the number of research, development, and demonstration projects supported in cooperation with industry, universities, and the national labs would be reduced, limiting innovation and technological advancement, curtailing solutions to reduce U.S. dependence on oil and reduce energy waste, and undermining the Nation's industrial competitiveness in the future global clean energy economy. The Congress is urged to fully fund the FY 2016 Budget request of $2.7 billion.”
“Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The Administration objects to the $291 million provided in the bill for ARPA-E, which is $34 million or 10 percent below the FY 2016 Budget request. This funding reduction would impact investments in transformational technologies that reduce energy-related emissions, increase energy efficiency across multiple economic sectors, and reduce energy imports.”