Senate Dems to block energy bill as budget talks limp along

By Geof Koss | 10/08/2015 07:18 AM EDT

Senate Democrats today are expected to filibuster the popular Energy and Water Development appropriations bill, as they continue to prod Republicans toward an end-of-the-year budget deal.

The upper chamber will vote today on cloture on the motion to proceed to the $35.4 billion Energy-Water measure, H.R. 2028, which is generally one of the less controversial of the 12 appropriations bills.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Appropriations subcommittee that wrote the bill, said Democrats would oppose ending debate.


"That’s the plan," she told E&E Daily yesterday.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the vice chairman of the Democratic conference, also told E&E Daily yesterday that he expects Democrats to filibuster the bill — a tactic the minority has employed for months in an effort to force Republicans into budget negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) set up today’s vote as part of the back-and-forth tussling between the two parties over appropriations. By doing so, McConnell is daring Democrats to vote against a measure that Feinstein noted funds U.S. nuclear weapons programs, science programs at the Energy Department that enjoy broad bipartisan support, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which provides funds for water projects across the country.

Additionally, "they picked that bill because we have a relatively good allocation," Feinstein said, expressing deep frustration over the standoff over appropriations.

"What’s happened is sort of a move away from the traditional way of appropriating, which has weakened the committee and provided no ability to get anything done, ’cause you’re always just trying to stay even," she said. "It’s very frustrating."

After months of prodding by Democrats, Schumer acknowledged that Republicans have started to discuss a budget deal to replace the continuing resolution that expires Dec. 11.

"They’ve been beginning to talk, but we’ve got to get serious," he told reporters. "We’ve got to come up with pay-fors so that we can avoid sequestration."

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, said staff on the panel are already making plans for an omnibus spending measure they hope will replace automatic sequestration cuts.

Lowey told reporters the committee has an "aspirational" goal of receiving a topline number on Nov. 11, which would provide sufficient time to ready an omnibus for December.

"They’re looking at certain items in the bill but after Nov. 11, and we get a number, then the hard work will continue to Dec. 11," Lowey said.

However, that effort is hamstrung by uncertainty over how much discretionary spending they’ll have to work with — an issue she indicated remains under discussion among congressional leaders and the White House.

Lowey said appropriators don’t necessarily need a budget deal signed into law by Nov. 11 but need some certainty that the numbers they’re given are supported by leaders in both parties.

Further complicating matters is the question of what will happen after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) steps down at the end of the month (see related story).

"I have no idea what’s going to happen with their leadership," Lowey said. "I have no idea — remember, 151 Republicans voted to shut down the government, and I would hope that wiser heads in the Republican Party can prevail and that they can work together, even though they may not agree on every number or every item. I’m hoping they can work together so I can work with the Republicans to come up with a plan."

Asked if negotiations may have to start again once there’s new leadership in the House, she said it’s possible. "Anything can happen," Lowey said.