Now that it is November and deadlines for both the continuing resolution and the super committee are just weeks, rather than months away, appropriations and the deficit are more than ever holding the attention of policymakers on Capitol Hill. Despite money worries, energy issues continue to grab quite a bit of attention themselves, and some are just heating up.
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is staring down a November 23 deadline to identify $1.2 trillion in savings, and with the deadline fast approaching, Senate and House leadership have stepped in to take a strong hand in guiding negotiations. With tax revenues remaining a sticking point for the panel, there is some possibility that the group may have to settle on a smaller number and let automatic spending cuts cover the remaining balance.
The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated November 2 that Congress could eliminate every corporate tax incentive and preference in the tax code and still not have enough money to produce a revenue neutral cut to a 25 percent corporate tax rate. House Ways and Means Democrats said that the lowest corporate tax can go by eliminating tax expenditures is 28 percent, but Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) has a stated goal of producing a revenue-neutral tax reform plan that would reduce both the top corporate and individual income tax rates to 25 percent.
The Senate approved, 69-30, a fiscal 2012 spending bill (H.R. 2112) November 1 for the Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development Departments. As amended by the Senate, the legislation allots $2 billion for carbon capture and storage projects, restores $161.5 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate service that had been zeroed out by the House in July, and provides $1 million for an Economic Development Administration pilot program that would offer on-bill financing of energy efficiency improvements. The first of the minibuses to pass the Senate, it remains unclear whether the House will take a similar approach to the funding, and if it does not, both chambers will be forced to resort to an omnibus or yearlong continuing resolution at a later date.
The next minibus, to see floor action this week, will include Energy and Water, Foreign Operations, and maybe Financial Services. The package is likely to have a $31.6 billion price tag, with $25.6 billion for DOE. That is a more than $1 billion increase for DOE over a House-passed appropriations measure that included riders delaying the implementation of incandescent light bulb standards, among other things, and $4 billion less than the amount originally requested by President Obama. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is trying to insert in Energy and Water appropriations language that clarifies the rights of states to impose feed-in tariffs. Additionally, funding for offshore wind demonstration projects and small modular reactors are on the table as possible additions to the next minibus, each with their supporters and detractors in the Senate. President Obama made funding requests for both, and it seems that the two are joined at the hip, as Senators supporting one would not see it overlooked in favor of the other.
On the House side, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and 182 other Democrats showed a near-united front November 1 in opposing efforts to roll back environmental regulations and other policies by attaching language to fiscal year 2012 appropriations measures. The group sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) urging him to avoid partisan policy riders or risk a government shutdown.
While appropriations remain up in the air, the current continuing resolution expires November 18, and it is increasingly clear that a new temporary funding measure through the end of January will be necessary to keep the government open and running. House and Senate conferees began negotiations November 3 on H.R. 2112, and they have committed to passing it and attaching to it a new continuing resolution to cover all government agencies’ spending, by the time the current resolution expires.