FISCAL POLICY

Key House Republican calls for debt bill free of EPA riders as GOP readies more mini spending bills

The chief House author of a pending plan to curb U.S. EPA's power over greenhouse gas emissions yesterday called for "a clean debt ceiling" increase that does not wade into that heated climate change debate.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) endorsed decoupling EPA emissions rules from the must-pass bill to raise the federal borrowing limit at a time when the House majority is openly weighing whether to combine the debt ceiling and the ongoing government shutdown into one set of talks with Democrats. Having voted on four smaller bills to fund portions of the government, the House last night released 10 additional narrow spending measures set for floor action.

But Whitfield, an Energy and Commerce subcommittee chief, said he hopes to move his emissions bill through the regular legislative order.

"For myself, I'd just like a clean debt ceiling," Whitfield said in an interview. "I'm working with Democrats in the Senate, and I don't want to get tied up in a big argument about the debt ceiling and everything else."

House Republicans last week planned to include riders restricting EPA's Clean Air Act authority over greenhouse gas emissions as well as its rules limiting the disposal of coal ash to their debt-limit bill, in addition to several other environmental riders (E&E Daily, Sept. 23). That could change as soon as this morning, however, as the GOP conference prepares to meet on the fourth day of a shutdown that has seen public poll respondents lean toward blaming the Republican Party more than President Obama or Senate Democrats for the frozen government.

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Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) suggested in an interview that since the previously expected debt-ceiling vote has "been put off for a little while," the next iteration of his party's package might look somewhat different than last week's.

"I sense there is going to be a convergence of the debt ceiling and the CR [continuing resolution]," Upton said, referring to the bill that must be passed to reopen the government. "We'll see how that plays out over the next number of days."

If House Republicans opt to jettison the EPA greenhouse gas rider from their debt bill, their rationale could go beyond allowing Whitfield to corral moderate Senate Democratic support. The White House has vowed not to negotiate on the borrowing limit, and it remained unclear last week if any amount of energy sweeteners would be enough to secure conservative votes to raise the ceiling.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the House steward of EPA and Interior Department spending, said in an interview that his party might call up more narrow CRs that would reopen slivers of the federal government -- citing the Bureau of Indian Affairs as one area in line for a GOP cash infusion.

"Ultimately, I think it will all be rolled together," Simpson said of the CR and debt ceiling.

But Senate Democratic leaders continued to reject that strategy yesterday as the House passed the last of four small-scale bills to fund national parks; veterans' services; the Washington, D.C., government; and the National Institutes of Health.

The House GOP shrugged off Senate inaction late yesterday and released the text of 10 new slim CRs set for imminent floor votes. Among them are a bill designated for weather monitoring that would fund the National Weather Service and a bill designated for emergency preparedness that would fund a portion of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Also on the House docket is a bipartisan bill that would compensate furloughed federal employees for shutdown time that they would have worked.

All 10 CRs would last until Dec. 15, the date that the previous and governmentwide House funding bill would have expired.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), another member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he wanted to use the debt ceiling to limit EPA regulations in general but suggested that options went beyond just including narrow language targeted at authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Scalise pointed to the "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act," or "REINS Act," as a broader approach that would allow Congress to block most executive branch rules. The bill, a centerpiece of GOP regulatory reform efforts, would require Congress to vote to approve any regulation with a price tag in excess of $50 million before it could be implemented.

"I want to address all the things that are holding our economy back," Scalise said in an interview yesterday. "Clearly, the radical regulations from the EPA are part of that, and frankly, the REINS Act, that kind of policy where if an unelected federal bureaucrat is going to put a regulation in place that does damage to our economy, shouldn't it at least go before Congress?"

Reporter Nick Juliano contributed.

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