The first week in February always raises two crucial questions: will Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow and doom the country to another six weeks of winter? And what will the President include in his budget proposal for the upcoming year? The groundhog did see his shadow, and the President did offer up a budget, including some interesting items for advanced energy.
The budget request process is a quixotic and oftentimes symbolic effort. It is an opportunity for the White House to show to Congress and the public its priorities and how it would allocate taxpayer dollars, given the opportunity. This year’s budget request mirrored themes from the President’s State of the Union address, particularly when it comes to energy policy. The budget proposal includes a new $4 billion fund for states that goes further and faster than the current timeline allotted in the Clean Power Plan. It calls for a permanent extension of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Production Tax Credit (PTC), which is currently lapsed, and asks for money to finance additional clean energy projects.
The problem is, as Sen. John McCain put it, the budget is “dead on arrival.” Judging by recent votes, Congressional leadership is opposed to extension of the PTC for even five years and has shown nearly unanimous opposition to EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
In some regards, this year’s budget is another demonstration of how far apart the White House and Congress are on energy policy. While no one expected a Republican Congress to accept a Democratic President’s budget in full, it appears that the chasm between the parties and branches is as wide as it’s ever been. Still, there could be a window of legislative opportunity once the political steam left over from the last election dissipates, and before candidates start preparing for the 2016 election.
Meanwhile, as the White House prepared its budget, the Senate dedicated weeks of floor time to the Keystone XL bill. As we’ve discussed before, this bill was a test of Majority Leader McConnell’s commitment to “regular order” – meaning actual debate on amendments – and it also became a lightning rod for energy-related issues. While debate was eventually cut off, approximately 50 amendments did get considered, dwarfing the number of amendments considered all of last Congress. Most of these proposals were symbolic and politically muddled (is climate change real or a hoax? is it caused by human activity?), but portions of the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill from last Congress did get added, with the bipartisan support the bill has always enjoyed. The KXL bill now goes over to the House, where it will surely pass, and then to the White House, where it will undoubtedly trigger the first use of the veto pen in the current session.