Image for Spending Battle Looms When Congress Returns
House Republicans want to chop a large chunk of funding in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act even as Environmental Protection Agency under Administrator Michael Regan seeks applications nationwide for clean energy projects.

Targets Include Culture War Issues and Biden’s Climate Change Program

When Congress returns this fall from August recess, its agenda will center on spending bills for the new fiscal year beginning October 1. Battles that could threaten a partial government shutdown center on culture war amendments to House appropriations and an attempt to gut the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

Chances are better than good the House and Senate will need to agree on a continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown, but that also could spark partisan warfare as House Freedom Caucus members have threatened to oppose a CR.

The clashing politics this fall will be more partisan than usual. Right-wing House Republicans still chafe at the debt ceiling deal struck between Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden. While the Senate, on largely a bipartisan basis, has advanced appropriations bill that conform with the negotiated spending cap, House spending bills have deeper cuts. They also have amendments dealing with abortion and gender-affirming care.

The biggest spending target are the climate change provisions included in the Infrastructure Investment Act (IRA) and touted by Biden and Democrats on the campaign trail. Two House appropriations measures would combine to redirect $19 billion of the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

Applications Already Requested
The Environmental Protect Agency has already begun the process of distributing money from the fund. EPA proposes to divvy the $27 billion through three separate grant programs – $14 billion for clean technology projects, $7 billion for solar power projects and $6 billion for clean energy projects in disadvantaged communities.

There are already deadlines this fall for applicant submissions. EPA says it wants to approve grants by March.

Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama and chairman of the House GOP Policy Committee, sought to repeal the funding mechanism, calling it a “slush fund” with limited oversight. EPA says, “Americans all across the country will benefit from the hundreds of thousands of projects funded by this historic $27 billion investment. It is a top EPA priority to implement and manage these agency resources with transparency, efficiency and effectiveness to deliver meaningful results for the American people.”

Evergreen Act, an environmental group supporting the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, said GOP opposition is wrongheaded. “The conservative majority in the House may continue to lob baseless attacks at the IRA, but in doing so they are quite literally doing the worst harm to their own constituents,” the group said. “Since the IRA became law, more than 140,000 new clean energy jobs have already been created, while hundreds of billions of dollars in private and public investments have popped up in every corner of the country. And approximately two-thirds of those new investments are going straight into Republican districts.”

Dale Bryk, director of state and regional policies at the Harvard Environmental and Energy Law Program, predicts projects will be popular across the country. “Adding solar power to a community often brings other improvements, such as roof repairs, mold removal, weatherization and new electrical panels, not to mention reduced energy costs as electricity replaces more expensive fossil fuels for heating,” Bryk says.

Communities all over America will benefit from projects funded through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act.

Another twist of politics in spending bills is the increased number of earmarks, which could evaporate in a prolonged scrap of Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations. With Republican control of the House, the states that would gain the most if earmarks remain would be red states, headed by Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma that account for 10 percent of the congressionally directed spending proposed in FY 2024.

Of the top 10 Senate ‘earmarkers’, eight are Republicans led by Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine. Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington and who chairs Senate Appropriations, ranked 11th with earmarks totaling $201.1 million.

Oregon’s two senators and five of the state’s six congressional representatives requested earmarks. Congressman Cliff Bentz, a Republican who represents Eastern Oregon, declined to submit earmark requests.

California, Texas and Florida remain the states with the biggest earmark haul remain. Tennessee ranked fifth, Oklahoma 11th and Arkansas 15th. Oregon and Washington, with predominantly Democratic congressional delegations, received proportionately less in earmarks.

Federal Fiscal Reform
A group of House members has officially formed the Bipartisan Fiscal Forum to explore avenues of fiscal reform to address the “nation’s unsustainable debt trajectory”. That trajectory has led one credit agency to lower the nation’s credit score and could lead to much higher interest payments to cover debt payments.

“The group’s mission,” according to its website, “is to elevate the debt Issue with their colleagues and the public while providing members of Congress with opportunities to improve the fiscal policy debate in Congress.”

The group, led by Congressmen Scott Peters, D-California, and Bill Huizenga, R-Michigan, wants to encourage discussion of solutions and avoid partisan attacks. “In the spirit of building trust and finding common ground, BFF participants should not attack each other but instead put forward their ideas for debate.” Since 2020 when the group began informal conversations, more than 70 current House members have participated.

The steering committee includes Congressman Jared Golden, D-Maine, who offered a compromise to unsnarl the debt limit debate that included spending cuts matched with tax increases.