Republicans to Reevaluate Plans After Demise of Energy, Water

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By Nancy Ognanovich and Jonathan Nicholson

May 26 — House and Senate Republican leaders signaled they will reevaluate their plans to move all 12 appropriations bills through the chambers this summer after the popular Energy and Water spending measure failed on the eve of the Memorial Day recess.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said after the usually bipartisan bill attracted little more than 100 votes on the House floor that he and other lawmakers will meet after the House returns in early June to assess next steps on that bill and 10 others that have yet to advance to the floor.

“What we have to do when we return is get with our members and figure out how best we can move forward to have a full functioning appropriations process,” Ryan told reporters after Energy and Water failed on a vote of 112 to 305. “Obviously, we want to pass individual bills. We think that's in the best interest of the institution, of Congress, of exercising the power of the purse. When we get back we will sit down with our members and have a family discussion about how best to proceed so that the appropriations process cannot be sabotaged and derailed.”

Blame Game

Ryan said the demise of the bill was caused by Democrats, who succeeded in adding an amendment that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. But Democrats charged that Republicans sunk the measure when they refused to vote for any measure with a gay rights provision. On final passage, 130 Republicans joined 175 Democrats in opposing the bill while 106 Republicans and six Democrats voted in favor.

But other developments signaled new problems for the plans Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made to move the full set of bills by the July 15 target for starting a seven-week recess. Among other things, the House quietly removed the annual Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development bill from the Senate-passed “minibus” before it undertook moves to conference on the annual Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill that is the vehicle for a Zika supplemental.

Even before the demise of the Energy and Water bill McConnell struck a cautious tone on the Senate floor, saying “it won't be easy” to get the appropriations process back on track. “But we're committed to doing all we can,” he said, saying otherwise little about next steps.

LGBT Latest Controversy

The threat to the $37.4 billion Energy and Water bill (H.R. 5055), as well as others, was hinted at recently when Democrats said they would try to add amendments to ensure the implementation of President Barack Obama's executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors. Democrats said they were outraged by Republican efforts to keep such an amendment out of the $81.6 billion Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill (H.R. 4974) (See previous story, 05/20/16).

Democrats first proposed the amendment after Republicans put language in the annual Defense authorization bill to block implementation of the order.

“House Republicans' thirst to discriminate against the LGBT community is so strong that they are willing to vote down their own appropriations bill in order to prevent progress over bigotry,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said..

But House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said the bill already was courting trouble when it came to the floor. Among the riders that Democrats opposed was one that allows guns to be carried on all Army Corps of Engineers lands and six riders related to California water policy that could generate a White House veto (see related story in this issue).

“ It was made much worse by the House’s shameful adoption of discriminatory amendments,” Lowey said.

Ryan Light-Touch Approach Fails

Ryan said he is not ready to shut down the appropriations process but suggested that future spending bill debates may be more controlled in order to make the process more “workable.”

“Early on, I stood up here—you remember this, it was one of my first press conferences—and said that some bills might fail because we're not going to tightly control the process and predetermine the outcome of everything around here,” Ryan said. “Well, that's what happened here today.”

The House developments were at odds with the bipartisan flavor of the Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the $575 billion Defense and $48.1 billion Homeland Security spending bills, both of which were approved on 30-0 votes and cleared for floor action beginning in June. Democrats praised the bills developed by Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) for avoiding controversies and following last fall's bipartisan budget deal.

However, problems loom for those measures, with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) warning that on the floor Democrats will oppose Republican efforts to add $18 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds in violation of the budget deal (See previous story, 05/26/16)

THUD Dropped From Package

Meanwhile, the Senate's work appears to be eroded by House developments. The $37.5 million Energy and Water bill was passed by the Senate after three weeks' work, and the uncertain outlook in the House means no conference is likely to occur soon. The move to also drop the $56.47 billion THUD bill that McConnell combined with the $83.03 billion Milcon-VA bill in the minibus (H.R. 2577) raises questions about the fate of that measure. The House has yet to take up its own version.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com ; Jonathan Nicholson in Washington at jnicholson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com