“NO” on Senate’s FY17 Energy & Water Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2028)

This week, the Senate began consideration of H.R. 2028, the vehicle for its version of FY17 Energy & Water Appropriations bill.  The $37.5 billion spending bill aligns with the spending caps enacted as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) last fall, and would raise spending by $355 million above FY16 levels and $261 million over President Obama’s request.

Conservatives should evaluate each individual appropriations measure on the following three criteria: 1) level of spending; 2) funding of bad programs; and 3) exclusion of conservative policy riders.  On all three counts, the Senate’s version of the FY17 Energy & Water Appropriations bill falls short.

Spending Levels.  Earlier this week, Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) 57% filed a resolution deeming the discretionary budget levels to be set at $1.070 trillion, the statutory cap set by the BBA.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) 40% made clear that “We will be using the top line that was agreed to last year in order to move forward on the Senate appropriations bills.” Writing appropriations bills to this elevated level is fiscally irresponsible, and most Senate Republicans — 35, or 65-percent of the Senate Republican Conference — voted against increasing the budget caps last fall.  

Programs Funded. Budget numbers are not arbitrary — they have real implications in terms of what programs are being funded.  While Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) 2% may lament that appropriators had to make “tough choices” in this bill, the bill would actually spend more than President Obama’s request. For example, federal energy programs would receive an increase of $157 million from 2016, up to $11.2 billion.  Renewable and efficiency programs would receive $26 million of that.

The Heritage Foundation’s “Blueprint for Balance” demonstrates what is possible, recommending a funding level of $35.5 billion in 2017, roughly $2 billion lower than the level proposed in this bill. Reducing funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy would save $340.3 million alone.  Eliminating the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE) would save $844.3 million.  Eliminating subsidies for Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs), Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and Rural Utilities Service (RUS) would save $438 million.

One program that goes unfunded though is Yucca Mountain.  Instead of providing funding to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with the aim of completing the licensing process of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility, the bill advocates a short-sighted approach to build a pilot interim storage facility.  

Conservative Riders.  Last month, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) 26% made clear “controversial riders will not be added” to the Energy & Water appropriations bill as it moved through his subcommittee.  Last week during committee markup, Alexander doubled down, adding:

“This will all work if we issue a little restraint in the amendment process.We know how to do that, and we know how to deal with a lot of amendments. If we show a little restraint and cooperate, many senators will [have] chances for many amendments, if they wish to have them.”

Republican leaders have long suggested that moving each of the 12 appropriations bills would give conservatives their best chance at enacting conservative policies through riders.  Alexander’s comments serve to significantly lower those expectations. Sen. John Hoeven's (R-ND) 40% amendment to defund the EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) serves as an example. Even though it is arguably germane to the underlying bill, it was not included in the base bill. That is unfortunate, especially since defunding the rule is supposedly an important priority for the Senate Republican majority.

Similarly, other conservative riders have been left out, including a prohibition on using any funds to implement President Obama’s National Ocean Policy Initiative executive order, and important provisions that would enable California to store and divert water to farmers and communities in times of severe drought.

As drafted, the Senate’s FY17 Energy & Water appropriations measure spends too much money, funds too many bad programs, and excludes too many conservatives priorities to merit support.  Absent significant changes, Heritage Action will key vote against H.R. 2028.  Note that additional key votes are possible as what is expected to be a lengthy amendment process plays out.

Heritage Action opposes H.R. 2028 and barring substantial changes will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Heritage Action Scorecard
A Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2017