Largest Energy & Water Bill in the History of the House

This week, the House will consider H.R. 5055 the FY 2017 Energy & Water Appropriations bill. This legislation provides funding for projects under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Energy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The bill spends a total of $37.4 billion, which is $259 million above FY16 enacted levels and $168 million above the President’s request. Furthermore, it aligns with the spending caps enacted as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) last fall.

Each individual appropriations measure should be evaluated on the following three criteria: 1) level of spending; 2) funding of bad programs; and 3) exclusion of conservative policy riders. On the first two counts the House’s version of the FY17 Energy & Water Appropriations bill certainly falls short. On the third, the bill includes some of the key riders conservatives demand. That said, few are likely to become law — as last year’s House-passed E&W demonstrated when important riders were ultimately left out of the December omnibus — while the elevated spending levels appear on track. The Senate-passed E&W bill, with its lack of important riders, defines the upper chamber’s position.

First, on spending, this year’s bill is in stark contrast to the House passed FY 2016 bill, which came in at $35.4 billion ($2 billion below the bill before the House now). Even worse, this bill is $7 billion above the House passed FY 2014 bill that served as the low spending point for the House Republicans.

House Energy & Water Appropriations Spending Levels

FY 2017 $37.4 billion
FY 2016 $35.4 billion
FY 2015 $34.0 billion
FY 2014 $30.4 billion
FY 2013 $32.1 billion
FY 2012 $30.6 billion

If the House were to pass this bill it would be largest E&W spending bill the GOP House has ever passed; in fact, it is
$2.8 billion above the last E&W bill crafted during Nancy Pelosi’s reign as Speaker.

Second, this legislation continues to make poor choices when it comes to programmatic funding. It contains $9 billion worth of programs with authorizations that have expired, a $1 billion increase from the House passed FY 2016 E&W bill. Many of these programs have gone unauthorized for many years. It even includes a program (Corps FUSRAP) that has never been formally authorized by Congress (the committee report says it was initiated but it never received a separate authorization).

The Heritage Foundation Blueprint for Balance made a number of detailed funding recommendations for this bill, including the elimination and reduced funding for particular programs. As outlined, the vast majority of the spending in the Department of Energy non-defense programs are different forms of energy subsidies that would be best handled in the private sector. For example, the bill continues to fund programs like ARPA-E, Energy Innovation Hubs, Weatherization Assistance Program, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Fossil Energy, and continues loan programs like the Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program and Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loans Program. The EERE and Fossil offices in particular continues to provide very generous resources ($1.8 billion and $645 million respectively) despite the fact that nearly all of those resources basically subsidize particular forms of energy. The American taxpayer has seen very little benefit from these programs and there is little to suggest that will change with this bill.

Third, the bill does contain some important riders, like the prevention of the Waters of the U.S. rule and continued funding for Yucca, among others. As mentioned above, that is to be expected, though there is little indication the riders will prevail in year-end negotiations.

Taken as a whole, the bill represents a significant spending increase for the Republican-controlled House, especially compared to previous E&W appropriations measures.  As a result, taxpayer money continues to flow to programs that do not merit continuing, let alone increased funding.  And given recent events in the Senate, there is little indication Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) 13% will allow conservative policy riders to advance. In fact, Senate Republican leadership bent over backwards to prevent conservative priorities from being added to the bill like Sen. John Hoeven's (R-ND) 40% WOTUS amendment or Sen. Tom Cotton's (R-AR) 77% Iran heavy water amendment.

As drafted, H.R. 5055 does not put forward a useful conservative benchmark for the House to negotiate with the Senate; instead, it simply validates the increased spending allowed by the Bipartisan Budget Act and moves the Republican-controlled House increasingly further from the policies it previously championed.

House Republicans, and in particularly those who opposed the BBA, should use the open amendment process to significantly reduce spending.

Read More:
The Heritage Foundation Blueprint for Balance – Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Policy Recommendations

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