Clock ticks as talks continue

By Geof Koss | 12/07/2015 06:52 AM EST

Lawmakers return to the Capitol today with just five days left to avoid a government shutdown, as negotiations proceed on an omnibus spending bill and a tax package.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol today with just five days left to avoid a government shutdown, as negotiations proceed on an omnibus spending bill and a tax package.

Discussions stretched out over the weekend, but congressional aides gave no signs of a breakthrough on either appropriations or the tax extenders package. House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters last week he hoped to unveil the omnibus today.

"Negotiations continue," Rogers spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said in an email last night. "It is expected that there will be an agreement this week."


Whether that agreement includes the yearlong omnibus both sides want remains unclear, as do the prospects for a tax package that could contain a repeal of the crude oil export ban if the two parties can agree on Democrats’ demands.

One Republican lobbyist said that wish list is long. "They want everything," the source wrote in an email over the weekend. "Seriously."

Besides extensions of key green tax credits, other rumored Democrat asks in exchange for crude exports include an extension and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund; money for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools programs; and a one-year moratorium on policy riders.

Environmentalists said there’s a core group of Senate Democrats who are unlikely to support an exports deal unless Republicans make major concessions such as permanently banning offshore drilling in certain areas, as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Still, environmentalists said that some of the 10 Democrats who attended the United Nations climate talks in Paris over the weekend emailed their leadership Saturday to urge against making an exports deal. A spokeswoman for Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who led the delegation, did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Other critics of such a deal continue to let congressional leaders know of their position.

In a Friday letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers reiterated its opposition to lifting the export ban in exchange for extending the production tax credit and investment tax credit.

"AFPM supports free markets and trade, and as such, does not oppose lifting the crude oil export ban," AFPM President Chet Thompson wrote. "AFPM, however, will not compromise one free-market principle to secure another, and thus we vigorously oppose linking the lifting of the crude oil export ban to subsidies, mandates, taxes, or other federal energy or environmental programs that intrude on the free market."

While White House spokesman Josh Earnest warned again Friday that the inclusion of riders "does risk a government shutdown," industry and environmentalists say there’s plenty of discussion about riders.

Those involved in the high-level talks are being quiet about the issue, but informal lists of some of the dozens of rumored riders include a delay of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan until litigation is completed, a provision that any deal President Obama agrees to in Paris be submitted for Senate ratification, and blockage of U.S. pledges to the Green Climate Fund. Other measures would target the Waters of the U.S. rule; the stream protection rule; the White House’s National Environmental Policy Act climate guidance; the social cost of carbon metric; the Interior Department’s proposal to overhaul coal leasing rates on public land; the new updated ozone standard; and the coal ash disposal rule.

Additionally, Endangered Species Act issues associated with the sage grouse are said to be in play, as are ESA waivers linked to the Western drought and wildfire funding.

Some rank-and-file members continue to make their case for pet riders, including House Energy and Commerce Committee member Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who on Friday penned a letter to Ryan urging an 18-month moratorium on efficiency standards from the Energy Department.

Reporter Manuel Quiñones contributed.