Having secured their goal of getting a budget deal addressing the debt ceiling and sequestration cuts, Democrats are looking ahead to the next phase of the appropriations fight: keeping contentious policy riders out of the omnibus spending measure they hope to pass in December.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters yesterday that President Obama and Democrats will stand firm against efforts to target environmental regulations — and other contentious riders.
"We’re holding hands with the president, we’re all holding hands. We are not going to deal with these vexatious riders," Reid said. "We feel comfortable and confident that this would violate the sense of this agreement, that’s not what it’s about."
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, said yesterday the two-year budget deal will be a boon to the moribund appropriations process, which has repeatedly ground to a halt in recent years over partisan wrangling.
"From the standpoint of an appropriator, to have a topline of two years is so encouraging because it provides certainty for our economy and certainty for our agencies," she told reporters.
But she acknowledged the threat of riders hangs over the negotiations as Congress works to pass an omnibus before the Dec. 11 expiration of the current continuing resolution.
"We’ll always be worried about poison-pill riders," she said.
While the budget deal forgoes riders, Republicans made clear they see omnibus talks as a venue for pressing back against the Clean Power Plan.
"If we get to an appropriations process, if we get to an omnibus in December, it’s certainly something I’m gonna be talking about," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), an appropriator, said of the Clean Power Plan.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the appropriations process is fair game for pushing back on the climate rules and EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rules.
"We’ll use every available option out there to keep that from happening," Inhofe said yesterday of the regulations.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who chairs the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, said yesterday he hoped that funding for the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada could be part of that larger package.
Whether that’s the case will hinge on just how much support Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, can muster in the upper chamber to overcome objections from Yucca opponent Reid, Simpson told E&E Daily yesterday.
"It really depends on whether Lamar can sell it to a majority over in the Senate. Harry Reid has the ability to block it, obviously, not as great of an ability as he had before, but if [Alexander] can keep Yucca Mountain in an opportune spot in the Senate, that’s more likely with a great big bill," Simpson said. "Would Harry can a great big deal? I don’t know."
Simpson reiterated that the senators will need to fund Yucca Mountain if they hope to advance a popular proposal to build an interim pilot storage project. "If they want consent-based, either program, they have to have Yucca Mountain," Simpson said. "I think both of them have to go or neither of them go."
Reid told reporters yesterday that Republicans had initially sought riders in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. "I said, ‘No, not going to do it. If you guys can’t do this without a lot of bells and whistles on it, then what you better do is go back and do a budget deal in addition to the debt ceiling because I’m not going to do anything other than a clean debt ceiling,’" he said.
Reid also confirmed rumors that Republicans had unsuccessfully pressed for changes to Senate filibuster rules sought by the House to smooth the appropriations process. "We had a lot of discussions on Senate procedure," he said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is expected to assume Reid’s position as Senate Democratic leader when the Nevadan retires at the end of 2016, predicted that Republicans will fall flat on riders in December.
"Usually in these fights, the party that loses is the one the public thinks is eager or wants to shut down the government to get their way," he told reporters. "That mantle is proudly worn by some of the Republicans and meekly worn by all the others by implication. And I think if they try to do the same thing on riders … they’re going to lose. They saw their weakened position in these negotiations because the public knows they’re willing to shut the government down and we’re not."
Republicans yesterday appeared optimistic that the deal would make it through Congress but acknowledged support won’t be unanimous.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the deal, slated to move forward in the lower chamber today, appeased Republicans by not increasing the deficit or introducing taxes, boosting defense and changing entitlements. But when asked about Democrats’ assertion that the deal didn’t touch the debt ceiling, McConnell disagreed.
"The agreement speaks for itself, the debt ceiling is a part of it," McConnell said.
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said the agreement’s success in the Senate will depend on what comes over from the House and what offsets are included.
"If the offsets are acceptable and they can pass the muster with a lot of our members, I think there will be … bipartisan support. The Democrats want additional funding for discretionary priorities, a lot of our members want additional funding for defense, and everybody wants to see some entitle reforms included in the pay-fors," Thune said.
Reporter Manuel Quiñones contributed.