By Madeline Urbish
To the surprise of virtually no one, the budget battle is starting to heat up between the White House and Congress, though the source of the latest skirmish is somewhat unanticipated. The historically noncontroversial Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill has become the most recent root of disagreement between Republicans in Congress and the Administration. On June 2nd, Shaun Donovan, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairmain Thad Cochran expressing the Administration’s concern with the Senate version of the funding legislation.
The letter outlines several major issues with the bill, particularly the major cuts made to renewable energy investments in the President’s budget. Overall, the Senate appropriations bill provides $668 million less in funding than the President’s budget proposal, with the majority of cuts in Department of Energy (DOE) programs that invest in alternative energy research and development. Donovan refers to the reduction of nearly $790 million for the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency from the Administration’s proposal, as well as cuts of $118 to grid modernization and energy system investments. Additionally, Donovan calls out the Senate bill for its failure to “adequately fund” the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which funds emerging energy technology development.
The Senate Appropriations bill actually comes in slightly higher ($107.5 million) than the House version of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. The versions differ, however, in where increases and cuts are applied. For instance, the Senate increased spending on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) construction line for its Civil Works program, but reduced appropriations for studies and maintenance based on the House-approved funding levels. Additionally, the Senate bill guts additional funding for shore protection projects provided by the House, but authorizes several “new start” study and construction projects not approved by the lower chamber.
Donovan also takes issue with several policy riders in the bill, including one that would exclude federal funding for IT spending at DOE labs authorized by the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. Additionally, the letter refers to other “problematic ideological riders” that “would irresponsibly undermine Federal agencies’ ability to protect Federal investments from flood risk.”
The letter serves as the latest attempt by the Administration to get members of Congress to pass spending legislation that can be agreed to by Democrats in Congress and the President, even if begrudgingly. Donovan makes no reference to a veto threat from the President, but he is specific in the Administration’s disapproval of policy language in the spending bill. Fear that these provisions make it much more difficult to gather bipartisan support was also expressed by Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees during markups of the bills. There is definite concern that congressional Republicans are heading towards another budget stalemate with the Administration and Democrats in the House and Senate, though it is unlikely that details in the Energy and Water Development bill would serve as the primary basis for a standoff.
The Senate Appropriations bill was approved by the committee on May 21st and awaits consideration, debate, and an as-yet unscheduled vote on the floor. No Senate appropriations bills have received floor action yet. The Defense funding bill may be considered this week, though it seems unlikely due to the time spent on the U.S.A Freedom Act. The FY 2015 federal budget ends September 30th, which means Congress and the President have exactly 119 days to reach consensus on funding legislation.
For more information on this article, contact Madeline Urbish at firstname.lastname@example.org.