Congressional leaders this week are hoping to wrap up negotiations over a massive fiscal 2018 spending package that will fund all federal agencies. It’s an effort being complicated by a push to include partisan energy and environment policies.
House and Senate appropriators want to finish writing the 12 annual spending bills by Wednesday, then hand them off to party leaders in both chambers who will have to resolve any outstanding issues, including policy riders. They’ll aim to settle those differences by the end of the weekend, with the bill due on the House and Senate floors next week.
Congress needs to pass the bill by no later than March 23, when current stopgap spending expires on the eve of a two-week congressional recess. If lawmakers cannot get the bill passed, they will have to clear another stopgap funding measure to keep agencies from shutting down.
"I’m not sure," Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior appropriator, said last week when asked about when the bill would surface. "But I think it will be before we go home for the break. Could it be next week? Possible, but it will probably be closer to when we go home for Easter break."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) signaled late last week he expected an agreement to come quickly, saying it was even "possible" that the spending bill could be on the House floor by the end of this week.
Aides however, downplayed that scenario, saying next week is far more likely.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said potential policy riders were preventing a bipartisan deal on the omnibus. "It’s the poison pills … that cause the problems. And that’s some of what we have to deal with," she told reporters last week.
"Ours is pretty much put together," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, late last week.
Simpson suggested only about three issues remain on his bill, including a rider exempting the Clean Water Rule from the Administrative Procedure Act, that leaders will have to settle.
Democrats have threatened to block the spending bill over riders. They noted they knocked out more than 160 provisions in last year’s omnibus, largely leaving that legislation clean, and many appropriators expect a repeat this year.
Environmental groups have warned against the more than 80 riders. Among those are provisions to roll back the Endangered Species Act, block a rule limiting methane emissions and expand logging on protected Alaska lands.
A coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Fund, wrote congressional leaders last week asking them to reject a rider that would permanently make it federal policy that biomass is carbon neutral.
"Any legislative effort to broadly and permanently characterize biomass as ‘carbon neutral’ is scientifically indefensible and will have large unintended effects on the climate," they said in the letter.
The Congressional Western Caucus, meanwhile, has outlined more than 25 policy provisions they see as priorities. They range from overhauling federal forest management rules to taking gray wolves off the endangered and threatened species list in certain regions.
Many of the most vexing issues over funding were resolved earlier this year when Congress reached a budget deal that will provide $200 billion more in discretionary spending over the next two years.
Appropriators have said that will allow them to provide increased funding for nearly all 12 of the spending bills, including those that cover U.S. EPA and the Commerce, Energy and Interior departments.
Simpson said to expect funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which House conservatives had hoped to zero out.
He said the bill is unlikely to contain money for beginning work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository because of Senate opposition.
EPA is likely to see an increase over its current $8 billion budget, although those funds are likely to go toward agency-administered grants rather than programs and operations.
Interior, too, could see its roughly $13 billion budget rise with dollars likely to go toward the national parks maintenance backlog and the payment in lieu of taxes program.
Additionally, leaders are expected to have to settle a partisan fight over a proposed $1.6 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Also, they’ll need to weigh in on hundreds of millions of dollars proposed for building a new railroad tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, which President Trump has recently railed against.
Reporter Geof Koss contributed.