Riders, tax extenders delay endgame

Source: Manuel Quiñones, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Discussions on an elusive long-term spending package and legislation to extend expiring tax provisions, including renewable energy incentives, are jeopardizing a desire by many lawmakers to wrap up this year’s work by the end of the week.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he hoped talks on a bill to keep the government running past Dec. 11 would be over by yesterday. They weren’t. And House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said more weekend of work may be necessary (E&ENews PM, Dec. 7).

Last night, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, described talks as “stuck.”

“Things are at the leadership level trying to break the logjam,” she said.

McCarthy said he was open to the possibility of a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government funded past Friday if negotiations stalled. White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested President Obama would only sign one short-term extension with an endgame in sight.

“We were making great progress over the weekend,” Mikulski said. “We were making progress on coming to closure on the financial agreements; we were coming to closure on the poison pill riders. But there seems to be a problem with the tax extenders.”

Late last night, Republican leaders on the House Ways and Means Committee filed legislation with the House Rules Committee to extend an array of tax incentives for two years. The move allows the chamber an alternative if negotiations on a bipartisan, bicameral compromise don’t bear fruit.

“We’re hopeful negotiations continue. But we recognize the clock is ticking, so we want to be prepared,” said Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas). “We are not going to allow the extenders to expire. We need to act.”

Earlier this year, Ways and Means passed an extenders package without controversial renewable energy incentives. The Senate Finance Committee version did have those provisions.

Democrats and Republicans spent much of yesterday trading accusations for delays in reaching an agreement. Democrats blamed Republicans for pushing controversial policy riders to the spending bill. Republicans said Democratic leaders were not allowing members to negotiate.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) circulated a letter yesterday afternoon reiterating her caucus’ opposition to riders in the spending bill and rejecting House GOP tax extenders language. She also expressed concern about coupling both legislative priorities.

The Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate are scheduled to meet today to discuss progress and steps ahead. Both parties are downplaying the possibility of a government shutdown and talking up a deal on taxes.

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said senators widely believe it’s important that there be a multiyear bill to renew expired tax provisions “because that provides some measure of certainty, predictability, and we need to promote growth and giving working families the opportunity to get ahead.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of his party’s leadership, was less optimistic yesterday afternoon: “It’s going to need to be read and understood and digested by members before they vote on it. And what that tells me is that it’s looking more and more like we’re going to end up with a default position, which is a two-year bill.”

Oil exports

For weeks, lawmakers have been discussing the idea of oil exports helping grease the skids toward a compromise. The idea is for Democrats to accept lifting export restrictions if Republicans agree to let go of some policy riders or accept renewable energy tax incentives.

But advocates on both sides of the debate are pulling allies against such a compromise. A roster of environmental groups are circulating a letter urging members not to roll back the crude oil export restrictions, not even as part of a broader deal.

“Legislation to lift the export ban represents yet another give-away to the oil industry and would erode progress we’ve made protecting consumers, the environment and combating climate change,” said the letter.

The group Producers for American Crude Oil Exports said in response: “The claims made in the letter are not supported by the facts, and stand starkly at odds with a growing consensus of independent research and government analysis, editorial boards, thought leaders and think tanks from across the political spectrum.”

Still, some oil export supporters say they would rather see the issue survive on its merits rather than agree to Democratic and environmental demands on riders or taxes.

Philip Ellender, a lobbyist for Koch Industries Inc., expressed such sentiments in a letter to lawmakers last month. American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers President Chet Thompson did so in another missive last week.

Cornyn repeated his claim that Democrats were appearing “a little greedy” on their demands related to oil exports. “I think that’s still being discussed,” but he said that Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the Democratic leadership, “said the price will be very high.”

Reporters Hannah Hess and Tiffany Stecker contributed.