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Energy-Water Spending bill could get Senate vote next week

September 6, 2023   Energy & Environment News

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Top Senate appropriators are considering including the Energy-Water spending bill in a package of legislation for a vote as soon as next week as Congress rushes to avert a government shutdown.


Appropriations ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Tuesday the $58 billion bill, which the committee approved on a 29-0 vote in July, is on the shortlist of bills that could join Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Agriculture as part of a so-called minibus package.


“We’re still talking about the third bill,” she told reporters, noting that the State-Foreign Operations bill and the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill are also under consideration.


“It’ll likely be one of those three,” Collins said. “The good news is that we will proceed to the floor next week, God willing, and it will be a three-bill package."


Congress is racing to pass all 12 spending bills before government funding runs out Sept. 30, but disagreements among House Republicans have stunted that chamber’s progress, and lawmakers are increasingly pushing for a continuing resolution to temporarily extend funding and avoid a shutdown.


The House has passed only one of its fiscal 2024 spending bills. Lawmakers there are expected to consider their Defense and Homeland Security bills next week.


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pressed House leaders Tuesday afternoon to cross party lines to pass their spending bills when they return from their August recess next week.


“The only way to avoid a shutdown is through bipartisanship,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “I urge, I plead, with House Republican leadership to follow the Senate's lead.”


Still, some conservatives adamant about reducing government spending have expressed a willingness to accept a shutdown in an effort to secure certain policy concessions or achieve cuts to fiscal 2024 bills beyond those agreed to in this year’s debt ceiling deal.


“If a temporary shutdown is more concerning to you than our $2 trillion deficit and $33 trillion national debt, I'd politely suggest you're part of the problem,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said Tuesday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.


The Senate’s Energy-Water spending bill would fund the Department of Energy at $50.1 billion, an increase of about $4.3 billion over fiscal 2023 levels but about $2 billion less than President Joe Biden requested earlier this year.


It also proposed $8.9 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers — a 7 percent increase over current levels — and $1.9 billion for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation.


The House version takes a starkly different approach to energy and water infrastructure funding. It cleared that chamber’s Appropriations Committee along party lines, on a 34-24 vote.


Republican appropriators cut some DOE funding in the bill and put those dollars toward nuclear programs to support national security interests.


Several environmental and business interests sent appropriators a letter Wednesday urging them not to move forward with such cuts, particularly for efficiency programs. Signers included the Alliance to Save Energy and DuPont.


The House Agriculture spending bill also includes deep cuts to climate and conservation programs. The Senate version would keep spending roughly at current levels.


Disaster aid

Lawmakers are similarly at odds over how to fund the federal government's response to wildfires and severe weather.


Florida Republican Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio have said they want to pass their “Federal Disaster Responsibility Act" as soon as possible to add $16.5 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s dwindling fund.


President Joe Biden has requested roughly the same amount in a supplemental spending package that also includes $24 billion in Ukraine aid.


Democrats and the White House want to pass the supplemental as part of a stopgap spending measure before the end of the month, but some conservatives have mounted resistance to the Ukraine aid and Biden has so far been unwilling to separate the two requests.


Scott on Tuesday fired off a letter to Schumer demanding “immediate action” to get a vote on his bill and blasting Democratic opposition to approving a stand-alone disaster aid measure.


“The Senate must make clear to the American people that Washington won’t play games with disaster relief funds or make helping Americans contingent on helping foreign causes, which require more debate and scrutiny,” Scott wrote. “We can and must pass this bill this week and I urge your full support and immediate action to get this done.”