Beltway Roundup

by Jeff Genzer

Early in the morning of October 17, 2013, President Barack Obama signed H.R. 2775 (P.L. 113-46), which funds the federal government from Octo­ber 1, 2013, through January 15, 2014. The short-term Continuing Resolu­tion (CR) ended the 16-day standoff between the Republicans and Dem­ocrats, but only temporarily. The debt limit was allowed to be raised until at least February 7, 2014, when the Department of the Treasury can once again engage in “extraordinary mea­sures” to keep the U.S. government from defaulting. The CR also required that an income verification of the Affordable Care Act be implemented. As part of this deal, the House and Senate agreed to proceed to a conference committee on the FY 2014 budget (H.Con.Res. 25, S.Con.Res. 8), with a deadline of December 13, 2013. The Chairs of the House and Senate Budget Committees, Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Patty Murray (D-WA), have already met, and the conferees are meeting on October 30. All the participants are downplaying expectations.

The three key numbers to keep in mind as Congress and the administration muddle through the next few months are: (1) $1.058 trillion—the discretion­ary spending total for both domestic and defense programs proposed by the Democrats for FY 2014; (2) $986 bil­lion—the discretionary spending total for both domestic and defense programs agreed to in FY 2013, after the effect of the sequester, which is the funding level in the present CR; and (3) $967 bil­lion—the discretionary spending total for both domestic and defense programs that would be in place as of January 2014, for the remainder of FY 2014, without a budget agreement. The Republicans and Democrats could agree on a $552 billion funding level for defense in FY 2014, but only at the $1.1 trillion level (from the Democrats perspective); otherwise domestic discre­tionary programs would be slashed. Most of the combatants involved in the high-level talks are probably willing to come to terms on a top-line funding level, but disagree strongly on the split between defense and nondefense. The Republi­cans are pushing for cuts in entitlement programs to make up the potential difference for a higher funding level. The White House and both parties are also interested in tax reform, or at least the continuation of some (or most) of the more than 100 tax provisions that will expire by the end of 2013.

For the energy programs, the short-term CR permits the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to receive funding at the FY 2013 level in FY 2014 (less any sequester) as soon as possible (Section 142 of H.R. 2775). For the State Energy Program (SEP), the $47 million FY 2013 level is the likely level in FY 2014 (less any further seques­ter). For the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), the situation is dire. The starting point for FY 2014 is the FY 2012 funding level, which is at the reduced level of $68 million. (For comparison purposes, WAP was at $174 million during FY 2011.) In FY 2013, the administration was able to move money around and use unspent funds from other Department of Energy accounts to bring WAP up to the $139 million level in the president’s budget request. Without a budget “anomaly” agreed to by Congress and the administration, the risk is that WAP will not be a nationwide program beginning in FY 2014.

On the legislative front, the Senate is still considering the Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) energy efficiency bill (S. 1392), which could be brought back to the Senate floor at any time. Debate began very briefly just before the Senate left in August, and it came back to the floor in September. The real debate never began, however, because extraneous amendments were raised that deal with the Affordable Care Act and other items. The bill spon­sors are valiantly attempting to bring a bill back to the floor with 60 votes to avoid a filibuster. Of concern to the states is that three key amendments have not yet been agreed to: (1) the reautho­rization of WAP and SEP through the Chris Coons (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jack Reed (D-RI) bill (S. 1308/Amendment 1842); (2) the State Energy Race to the Top legisla­tion (S. 1209/Amendment 1895), now known as “EPIC,” introduced by Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Jon Tester (D-MT); and (3) the Residential Energy Savings Act of 2013 (S. 1200/Amendment 1915), introduced by Ron Wyden (D-OR), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Also, just before the August recess, the private commercial buildings energy efficiency program, a joint effort by the state energy offices and the commercial building industry, was removed from S. 1392 over a dispute with the labor community concerning the application of Davis-Bacon wage rates. The House version of S. 1392 (H.R. 1616) was introduced by Representatives David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT). Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has indicated that he would bring up H.R. 1616 if the Senate can pass the bill.

Administration personnel has also seen shifts. The Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Jon Wellinghoff, has announced he will be leaving to join a law firm. In addition, the administration’s climate and energy point person, Heather Zichal, has announced her departure.