On March 20, the Senate first amended and then by a vote of 73-26 passed H.R. 933, the continuing appropriations bill that will fund the Federal government through the end of Fiscal Year 2013. An amendment by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) that sought to cut $60 million from the Defense Department’s Advanced Drop-In Biofuel Production Project was rejected by a vote of 40-59. The following day, the House of Representatives voted 318-109 to approve the bill, which the President is expected to sign before the current continuing resolution expires on March 27.

On March 21, the House of Representatives passed a budget resolution for Fiscal Year 2014 (H. Con. Res. 25) by a 221-207 vote. The vote fell almost entirely along party lines. The House budget blueprint calls for tax reform without raising any new revenues and purports to balance the budget by 2023 solely via spending cuts.

In the early hours of March 23, the Senate passed its version of a budget resolution for Fiscal Year 2014 (S. Con. Res. 8) by a 50-49 vote. That vote also fell almost entirely along party lines. The Senate budget blueprint calls for raising $975 billion in new revenue over 10 years as part of a plan to both raise revenue and reduce spending in order to cut the deficit.

During debate on the Senate budget resolution a number of the nearly 500 filed amendments were debated. Since the budget resolution is non-binding and unlikely to be reconciled with the House version, the amendments were largely symbolic. However, they do offer some clue as to the sentiment of the full Senate, and one amendment, related to the Keystone XL pipeline, was significant in its symbolism given that it has been a controversial issue and was approved by more than 60 votes.

While approximately a dozen of the 500 filed amendments dealt with important energy and environmental issues, only two passed. The Senate by a vote of 62-37 gave its approval to an amendment sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) that would establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to promote investment and job growth through the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. That vote followed an unsuccessful attempt by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to pass an amendment that would have required further analysis on the budgetary impacts of the proposed pipeline. The Boxer amendment failed 33-66.

The Senate accepted, on a voice vote, an amendment offered by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to increase funding for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) by $50 million over 10 years. ARPA-E did receive $275 million in the current FY13 appropriations, but that amount was reduced by $23 million as a result of sequestration.

The Senate rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that would have ensured that any fee or carbon tax be refunded to the taxpayers. The amendment, defeated on a 41-58 vote, would have required revenues generated from a carbon fee or carbon tax to go to deficit reduction, reduced tax rates or cost savings.

The Senate also rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that sought to prohibit Congress from enacting any fee or carbon tax. The amendment was defeated on a parliamentary procedure that would have required 60 votes for adoption.

The Senate also rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) that would have required the president to grant exemptions to individual power plants from deadlines set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) controlling mercury and air toxics. The vote on the Coats amendment was 46-53. Under EPA’s mercury and air toxic standards, power plants are subject to a three-year compliance deadline, but states may grant an additional year.

Other amendments filed on the Senate budget resolution include the following:

  • Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) amendment to block Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on greenhouse gas emissions until the federal government certified that China, India, and Russia have implemented similar rules.
  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) amendment making it more difficult for the Senate to fund EPA implementation of carbon dioxide emission standards for new coal-fired power plants.
  • Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) amendment that would reduce funding for natural resources and environmental programs in order to prohibit EPA from issuing new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) amendment to promote energy conservation and clean energy.
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) amendment that would establish an advanced energy trust fund funded by new domestic energy production.
  • Sen. Rand Paul(R-KY) amendment that would have increased highway infrastructure projects with funds from foreign assistance and Department of Energy loan guarantee programs.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) amendment that a fund to combat climate change by shifting funding from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.