ORLANDO, Fla. — Republicans have gathered here to refine their messaging on the economy, inflation and energy but are going into overtime while hashing out issues behind closed doors.
“It’s always more challenging when you’re the majority, because you’re expected to put ideas forth and be able to pass them,” said House Natural Resources Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) Monday. “And when you’re in a slim majority, it makes it that much more difficult.”
Republicans are hoping to resolve outstanding differences Tuesday morning when they meet to discuss H.R. 1, the “Lower Energy Costs Act.” The measure would speed up permits for hardrock mining, renewable energy and pipelines. And it would lock in more regular oil and gas lease sales.
Lawmakers say they are mostly in agreement about the particulars, despite some last-minute wrinkles on offshore oil and wind development.
“I think we’ve been able to address most if not all of those issues,” Westerman said, adding that they are still working through some provisions.
GOP leaders have spent much of their time here selling their massive energy package, a collection of dozens of bills from three committees, at nearly every turn.
“This will help curb inflation, lower the price of energy and help make America energy independent,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Sunday afternoon in his opening public remarks.
Below are some takeaways from the retreat thus far:
McCarthy talks permitting with Biden
At a St. Patrick’s Day lunch last week, McCarthy said he told President Joe Biden that he needs to overhaul the federal permit system to achieve his climate goals in the Inflation Reduction Act.
“What I explained to him was none of your clean energy is going to be built and none of your infrastructure is going to get built because the permitting processing is so bad in America,” McCarthy told reporters Monday. “There’s a lot of positives in what we can do.”
He suggested that the country’s borrowing limit, or debt ceiling — which is set to be reached over the summer — could give way for “things we could do legislatively.”
“I was trying to show him a lot of options that things could get done,” he said.
Asked if he’s hopeful that a bipartisan consensus on permitting is possible, he said, “I’m always optimistic. I went 15 rounds to get speaker,” a reference to his drawn-out January effort to win the speakership — which included concessions to the far right on spending, committee assignments and floor rules.
Limited amendments on H.R. 1?
McCarthy pointed to his early accomplishments: Ending proxy voting, opening up the Capitol, the return of the “open rule.” That latter procedure allows any House member to submit an amendment to a bill on the House floor.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from — you’re representing Americans with their voice,” McCarthy pontificated on Sunday. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t sit on that committee, you shouldn’t have that opportunity to have a say in that legislation. The people have a right to be there.”
But the energy package, H.R. 1, is expected to be offered as a “structured rule,” meaning the amendments would be limited when it comes out of the Rules Committee, according to lawmakers.
The Rules website shows that amendments must be filed by end of the day Tuesday, a good hint that the rule will not be open. Westerman a few weeks ago said the bill would come to the floor as a “structured rule.” Asked again Monday, he deferred, saying it would be up to the committee.
Offshore oil up in air
So far, 20 amendments have been submitted on H.R. 1, from both Republicans and Democrats, on offshore wind, tax credits for domestic production, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the renewable fuel standard and others.
Missing from the list — as of press time — is an amendment to codify a Trump moratorium on offshore oil drilling off the coast of eastern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
But that amendment is expected by the end of Tuesday.
“The moratorium has to stay,” Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) said Monday. “The Florida delegation is pretty well united in the fact that we don’t want to see anything offshore.”
Asked if an amendment was in the works, he said, “We may. We’ll see what happens.”
The session on the economy, inflation and the budget went into extra innings. Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the talks were positive, calling it a robust “family discussion.”
He suggested there is unanimity among Republicans when it comes to moving legislation.
“We’ve made it a point that how we legislate in this conference, it’s 222,” Smith said, referring to the total number of House Republicans. “That’s how we’ll move, whether it’s the budget or whether it’s the debt limit.”
Smith accused Democrats of reckless spending as the cause of inflation and said Republicans would seek to fix that. Republicans continue to say they will stand by a promise McCarthy made to conservatives: Cut spending to fiscal 2022 levels, with 1 percent inflation growth (E&E Daily, March 17).
Rolling spending back to 2022 levels, however, would necessitate huge cuts to discretionary spending. House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) on Monday declared that such cuts could cause “irreparable damage to our communities by gutting the programs every single American relies on.” Agencies like EPA, the Interior Department and others warned of dire consequences if Republican plans were to be instituted (Greenwire, March 20).
Asked about specific cuts to discretionary spending, Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), chair of the House Budget Committee, largely demurred to the appropriators, though he said his office would point out top-line suggestions.
He did say pieces of the Inflation Reduction Act are fair game. He said the “sort of Green New Deal giveaways” are “absolutely one of the issues that we are considering in the budget.”
For one, he pointed to “refundable tax credits,” adding, “It’s potentially hundreds of billions of dollars.”