Energy and Commerce Democrats will press EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler this week over plans to slash spending by about one-third at the agency in fiscal 2020.
The agency chief will be on Capitol Hill along with several other administration officials to defend the White House’s fiscal 2020 budget.
"I hope to hear commitments to clean air, clean water, clean cars, Clean Power Plan," said Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) last week when asked about Wheeler’s upcoming appearance.
"All those rollbacks were very hurtful, they were counterproductive, and they were in defiance of both Republican and Democratic administrations that have preceded us."
Tonko said he wants Wheeler to explain how EPA will play a "major role" in fighting climate change, suggesting that if Wheeler chooses to "give us bad news, then there’s going to be pushback."
Wheeler, who testified before House and Senate appropriators last week, is likely to again try to focus attention on savings from the administration’s deregulatory push.
He’s also expected to stress a reversal of initial plans for a nearly 90 percent cut to the politically popular Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
Other Cabinet officials will continue to lay out their priorities this week on Capitol Hill to appropriators, who hope to begin writing fiscal 2020 spending bills in May.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue as well as Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will go before House lawmakers.
On the other side of the Hill, Senate appropriators will hear from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation officials.
The House could take a crucial step toward writing spending bills by approving legislation that would raise stringent discretionary funding caps for fiscal 2020 and 2021.
Proposed legislation, approved by Budget Committee Democrats last week, would add billions of dollars in nondefense discretionary accounts that could help reverse proposed cuts at EPA and the Energy and Interior departments. The Rules Committee will consider possible amendments this evening.
Progressive Democrats could try to press for more domestic spending, while Republicans are likely to push back against those increases in favor of more military dollars.
It’s possible Democratic leaders may agree to some increases in domestic spending and other limits on military funding in the form of a manager’s amendment at the Rules Committee to avoid a confrontation with the party’s left flank.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said it’s "possible" the bill will be on the floor before Democrats leave Wednesday for a two-day party retreat in Leesburg, Va., followed by their two-week spring recess.
"I am hopeful that we can fund the government in a rational way and not shut down government, which was so irrational and so harmful to our country and so costly to our taxpayers," said Hoyer.
Hoyer has said his goal is to have all 12 fiscal 2020 spending bills passed by July 4, a move that would require settling on funding levels soon so appropriators can mark up the measures in May.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said the proposed spending increases would not fly with Republicans.
"Hopefully, we can get a bipartisan agreement on what those levels need to be to properly fund our defense, to properly do the other things the government should do and limit the ways it can possibly be carried out," Scalise said late last week.
In the Senate, appropriators from both parties say they want a bipartisan deal but realize that one might not happen until later this year.
In the meantime, there is talk that the Senate might mark up fiscal 2020 spending bills to current levels and ignore pending spending caps.
Disaster aid ‘at an impasse’
Talks will continue this week on reviving a disaster aid package for states and territories recovering from the spate of natural disasters during the past two years, including the recent devastating floods that hit the Midwest.
Assistance for Puerto Rico remains the chief hurdle, with President Trump digging in against sending more funds to the island territory, which he believes has received too much federal money already and has a history of fiscal mismanagement.
Democrats "want a lot more money for Puerto Rico; the president said he’s not going to do that," Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said last week.
A nearly $13.5 billion package offered by Shelby was recently blocked by Democrats, who said the $600 million in nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico is inadequate.
Republicans in turn voted down a House-passed disaster bill that contains more funds for Puerto Rico (E&E Daily, April 2).
Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on Appropriations, has proposed a roughly $16 billion compromise that would boost funds both for the Midwest and for Puerto Rico.
Increases for both regions "would be a way to move things," Shelby said, but "the president’s people say no-go on the Leahy proposal."
Southern lawmakers from both parties are anxious to get additional relief aid flowing to the region, which is still recovering from hurricanes and tornadoes.
Shelby decried what he called unprecedented partisanship on emergency assistance. "I’ve never seen either party play the political game like this on disaster," he lamented.
Still, Shelby said he was confident that a deal would eventually be worked out.
"We will have a disaster package. Now, when it will happen or how it will be configured, I’m not sure yet," he said. "Until something breaks, we’re at an impasse."
Schedule: The House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Justice Department budget is Tuesday, April 9, at 9:30 a.m. in 2359 Rayburn.
Witness: Attorney General Bill Barr.
Schedule: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change hearing on the EPA budget is Tuesday, April 9, at 10 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn.
Witness: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
Schedule: The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security hearing on the Coast Guard budget is Tuesday, April 9, at 10 a.m. in 310 Cannon.
Witness: Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz.
Schedule: The House Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee member day hearing is Tuesday, April 9, at 10 a.m. in 2362-B Rayburn.
Witnesses: Members of Congress.
Schedule: The House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Agriculture Department budget is Tuesday, April 9, at 10:30 a.m. in 2358-A Rayburn.
Witness: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Schedule: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Forest Service budget is Tuesday, April 9, at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.
Witness: Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.
Schedule: The Senate State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the State Department budget is Tuesday, April 9, at 2:30 p.m. in 138 Dirksen.
Witness: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Schedule: The Senate Budget Committee hearing on Defense Department spending is Tuesday, April 9, at 2:30 p.m. in 608 Dirksen.
Witness: Undersecretary of Defense David Norquist.
Schedule: The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands hearing on the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management is Wednesday, April 10, at 9 a.m. in 1324 Longworth.
- Brian Steed, deputy director of policy and programs, Bureau of Land Management.
- Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.
Schedule: The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Transportation Department budget is Wednesday, April 10, at 11 a.m. in 2358-A Rayburn.
Witness: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Schedule: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State Department budget is Wednesday, April 10, at 9:15 a.m. in 419 Dirksen.
Witness: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Schedule: The Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Justice Department budget is Wednesday, April 10, at 10 a.m. in 192 Dirksen.
Witness: Attorney General Bill Barr.
Schedule: The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation budget is Wednesday, April 10, at 2:30 p.m. in 138 Dirksen.
- R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works.
- Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general and chief of engineers, Army Corps of Engineers.
- Brenda Burman, commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation.
- Timothy Petty, assistant Interior secretary for water and science.
Schedule: The Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Agriculture Department budget is Thursday, April 11, at 10 a.m. in 192 Dirksen.
- Robert Johansson, chief economist, Agriculture Department.
- Erica Navarro, budget director, Agriculture Department.
- Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Reporter Nick Sobczyk contributed.