‘I’m Just a Bill’ – But Thanks to Appointment of Conference Committee, This One Might Become Law

Posted by Dylan Reed and Arvin Ganesan on Jul 14, 2016 4:57:26 PM


Over the last 18 months, the 114th Congress has considered hundreds of bills, debated many policies, and passed legislation, at least in one chamber or the other. This Congress has even approved some measures crucial to the advanced energy industry. Specifically, the extensions of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) provide the certainty that many AEE member companies need to plan and thrive over the coming years – even if those extensions left out some other advanced energy technologies, such as fuel cells, combined heat and power, and storage.

But now, all eyes are focused on the energy bills passed separately by the House and the Senate. While the measures are miles apart in terms of scope, ambition, and politics, this week lawmakers ignited hope that a consensus, or at least compromise, bill may land on the President’s desk. But it wouldn’t be Congress if they weren’t going to wait until the last minute. The process moving forward is not a Madisonian delight, but it is at least starting to resemble the Schoolhouse Rock version of lawmaking.

So how did we get here? Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bill with strong bipartisan support, skillfully guided to passage by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Initially offered as a bipartisan package in the House too, the bill quickly turned partisan in committee, sufficiently so to garner veto threats from the White House on a number of provisions. While neither of these bills offer huge wins for advanced energy, AEE has pointed out several provisions that could positively or negatively impact the industry.

Here’s where Schoolhouse Rock help us out. As (“I’m just a”) Bill explains in the classic civics video, in order to resolve differences between the two bills, the Senate and House must each select representatives for a conference committee. The House named conferees in May, including several members from the originating Energy and Commerce committee. But until just last week, Sen. Maria Cantwell, the ranking member of Senate Energy and Natural Resources, indicated her hesitancy to move to conference given the politically poisonous language in the House bill. However, the House has now indicated that its conferees would not push for language singled out for veto by the White House. With that assurance, the Senate moved forward and named conferees.

The politics still loom large, but the prospects for this bill seem to be looking up.

Congress heads out of D.C. tomorrow until after Labor Day, as the presidential nominating conventions begin next week and congressional campaigns go full tilt in August. While Congress is back home, congressional staff is expected to work on a negotiated package to send to the President. Any vote on a final package will likely not take place until the weeks between Election Day and the new Congress – a period known as the lame-duck session. Some insiders even suspect that tax extenders for advanced energy technologies, such as combined heat and power, fuel cells, and storage, will be a part of an end-of-the-year deal as a part of the energy bill or another deal. “I do feel strongly that those handful of renewable energy incentives ought to get done, because all sides acknowledge it was an omission,” Sen. Ron Wyden commented recently. Stay tuned – there may be an energy bill and tax deal to come out of the 114th Congress yet.

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Topics: Federal Policy