U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will be one of numerous administration officials on Capitol Hill this week defending the White House’s fiscal 2018 budget request.
Hearings in both the House and Senate come as appropriators and congressional leaders face difficulties as they try to avoid another fiscal cliff.
Pruitt is scheduled to appear Thursday before the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, and he will face questions on the dramatic EPA reshaping envisioned by the budget.
President Trump has proposed cutting about 30 percent, or more than $2 billion, of EPA’s budget, resulting in 3,800 fewer jobs at the agency.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, said Pruitt would get a "very friendly reception" from Republicans for pushing regulatory rollbacks. But, Cole said, Pruitt would get some pushback on deep agency cuts.
"I think at the end of the day, the EPA takes a haircut, but it’s hard for me to see cuts of the size that were proposed in the president’s budget," he said.
Cole noted that the White House pushed for sharp reductions to EPA as part of the recent fiscal 2017 omnibus package, but lawmakers only supported a 1 percent reduction.
Pruitt will likely take fire over plans to reduce or eliminate EPA programs that help support state regulators, including the Great Lakes cleanup efforts. Also likely to draw lawmaker scrutiny is a proposed cut of more than $300 million to EPA’s Superfund program.
Pruitt may have to defend his own security budget, too. Some lawmakers have questioned an increase in spending on his personal protection detail, which has surfaced in internal budget documents leaked to the media.
Democrats may also press Pruitt on Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement; the EPA administrator was one of the top boosters of the move.
Paris will also likely come up during one of numerous hearings on the State Department and foreign affairs spending in both the House and Senate. Expect Democrats to use the hearings as a platform to blast Trump for ceding international leadership on clean energy.
Republican appropriators on both sides of Capitol Hill have expressed distaste for the Trump administration’s "hard power" approach of increasing defense spending while slashing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s budget. Still, international climate change funds may be hard to resurrect.
House appropriators have in the past tried to block international climate spending, and those riders are likely to be part of the conversation this year.
Other prime venues for climate and renewable energy issues to emerge are hearings on proposed spending for the Defense and Treasury departments.
The Forest Service’s proposed budget will come before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. The Trump administration proposed $4.73 billion in discretionary funding.
Proposed cuts to collaborative management programs and to maintenance of roads and trails are likely to generate questions, as is the continuing effort to end the raiding of non-fire-related accounts to pay for fire suppression.
The administration didn’t propose a long-term solution to wildfire funding, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the agency’s budget request.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is concerned the budget doesn’t adequately fund firefighting, an aide said.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has said officials "stand committed to finding a solution for this once and for all," as lawmakers debate legislation on the issue.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, said last week she was skeptical of a proposal to move funding for the removal of hazardous fuels — meaning dry, dead wood — out of the wildland fire management account and into forest management.
She cast doubt on the agency’s predicted harvest of 3.4 billion board feet of timber, which she said would be hard to achieve with the proposed cuts to forest maintenance.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will appear tomorrow before the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee to discuss his department’s budget request.
The proposed spending plan would cut the agency’s funding by 20.5 percent, including reductions to conservation programs and crop insurance. Discretionary spending would total about $21 billion, and mandatory funding would be about $117 billion.
Perdue is likely to face questions about plans, not in the budget, to reorganize the department and eliminate the position of undersecretary for rural development.
The Trump administration has also said it wants to encourage more private-sector conservation assistance, while reducing staff in USDA field offices.
Cuts to crop insurance have brought objections from farm-state lawmakers, including Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), suggesting they won’t go far.
A spokeswoman for subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said he will likely press Perdue on crop insurance, the Conservation Reserve Program, agriculture research, trade, food aid and rural development.
Subcommittee ranking member Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has said the Trump budget hurts rural America. "It represents a direct attack on rural communities’ most basic needs, from slashing investment in small-business growth and job creation, to threatening access to clean drinking water," he said.
Amid the hearings, appropriators and congressional leaders will continue discussions on how they will actually move the 12 fiscal 2018 spending bills.
Despite perennial opposition to such a move, momentum is building toward packaging them into a single omnibus for the House to pass before the August congressional recess.
The Republican Study Committee, a bloc of more than 150 House conservatives, late last week got behind the idea. The group only takes a position when at least two-thirds of its members support it.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), the RSC chairman, said: "The game of financial and political brinksmanship has yielded few, if any, victories for conservatives. We cannot keep punting this problem and should be proactive rather than reactive." Walker also said lawmakers should be given the chance to offer amendments to the omnibus on the floor.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week called that proposal "almost impossible" given that Republicans have gotten a late start in writing spending bills with the White House’s budget sent to Congress only last month.
Pelosi did credit Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for recently reaching out to her to begin discussions over setting a top line for discretionary spending.
"He made the overture. It’s just up to them to get moving," she said.
Current spending caps, set by a 2015 bipartisan deal, would call for a $5 billion decease in discretionary spending in the coming fiscal year.
Both parties want to raise the limit, but for different priorities. The GOP wants to boost defense accounts, while Democrats are looking to raise domestic spending.
Pelosi also softened earlier comments on hiking the debt ceiling, saying she would now support a clean increase in the nation’s borrowing limit by August. She previously suggested she might not go along if the GOP continued to seek tax breaks for the wealthy.
"I would hope we would have no debate about it," Pelosi said. "We want to remove all doubt."
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently called on Congress to act by August on a clean borrowing extension to avoid any chance of an unprecedented federal default. The current national debt is just under $20 trillion.
Next week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold hearings on the administration’s budget request for the departments of the Interior and Energy. And the House Natural Resources Committee will meet on Interior.
Reporters Kevin Bogardus, George Cahlink, Hannah Hess and Marc Heller contributed.
Schedule: The House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Treasury budget is Monday, June 12, at 4 p.m. in 2359 Rayburn.
Witness: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Schedule: The House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Defense budget is Monday, June 12, at 7 p.m. in 2118 Rayburn.
Witnesses: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford.
Schedule: The House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Justice budget is Tuesday, June 13, at 2 p.m. in 2359 Rayburn.
Witness: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Schedule: The Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Defense budget posture is Tuesday, June 13, at 9:30 a.m. in G-50 Dirksen.
Witnesses: Mattis and Dunford.
Schedule: The Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Justice budget is Tuesday, June 13, at 10 a.m. in 192 Dirksen.
Schedule: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State budget is Tuesday, June 13, at 10 a.m. in 419 Dirksen.
Witness: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Schedule: The Senate Budget Committee hearing on revenue and the fiscal 2018 request is Tuesday, June 13, at 10 a.m. in 608 Dirksen.
Schedule: The Senate Agriculture, Rural Development and the FDA Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Agriculture budget is Tuesday, June 13, at 10:30 a.m. in 124 Dirksen.
Witness: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Schedule: The Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the State budget is Tuesday, June 13, at 2:30 p.m. in 192 Dirksen.
Schedule: The Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Transportation budget is Tuesday, June 13, at 2:30 p.m. at 138 Dirksen.
Witness: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Schedule: The House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the foreign affairs budget is Wednesday, June 14, at 9 a.m. in 2172 Rayburn.
Schedule: The House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Treasury international programs budget is Wednesday, June 14, at 10 a.m. in 2359 Rayburn.
Schedule: The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Defense budget is Wednesday, June 14, at 10:30 a.m. at 192 Dirksen.
Witnesses: Mattis and Dunford.
Schedule: The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Nuclear National Security Agency budget is Wednesday, June 14, at 2:30 p.m. in 138 Dirksen.
Witnesses: Philip Calbos, acting deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration; David Huizenga, acting deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration; and Adm. James Caldwell, deputy administrator for naval reactors at the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Schedule: The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Transportation budget is Thursday, June 15, at 10 a.m. in 2358-A Rayburn.
Schedule: The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Defense budget is Thursday, June 15, at 10 a.m. in 2359 Rayburn.
Witnesses: Mattis and Dunford.
Schedule: The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee on the EPA budget is Thursday, June 15, at 1 p.m. in 2007 Rayburn.
Witness: U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Schedule: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Forest Service budget is Thursday, June 15, at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.