Energy & Environment

Familiar offsets could resurface in spending caps talks
Budget watchdog groups start to dust off older proposals, as well as some new ones

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wants offsets for any increase to discretionary spending caps. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Another year, another spending caps negotiation — accordingly it’s time once again to check the couch cushions for “pay-fors” just innocuous enough to skate by without kicking up too much lobbying dust.

For instance, extending automatic cuts to Medicare and dozens of other “mandatory” spending accounts, which have become so routine they’re almost unnoticed, has been a mainstay of all three deals in the last five years to relieve the pressure on appropriators. Extending fees collected by Customs and Border Protection on passenger and cargo arrivals in the U.S., first enacted in 1985, has been rolled over constantly as a go-to offset for all manner of legislation, including the 2013 and 2018 spending deals.

Nine spending bills down, three to go in House
Not a single House Republican has voted for any of the spending bills, and the White House opposes them too

Chairman Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., right, full committee chair Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., conduct a House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on April 9, 2019. Nine of the 12 annual bills needed for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 have been passed. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House passed its second batch of fiscal 2020 spending measures Tuesday, in a $322 billion package that would block Trump administration policies on offshore drilling, a health care court challenge, the 2020 census and more.

On a mostly party-line vote of 227-194, the House passed the Democrat-written measure that combines five of the 12 annual bills needed for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Those are the Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which is the underlying vehicle, along with the Military Construction-VA, Agriculture, Transportation-HUD and the Interior-Environment bills.

Bitcoin mining energy costs raise concern, prompt little action
Influx of bitcoin miners to areas with access to cheap and plentiful energy has caused a backlash

More than 18 U.S. homes could be powered for one day by the electricity consumed for a single bitcoin transaction, a recent estimate found. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images file photo)

Bitcoin is under a cloud, one that Congress and others are beginning to acknowledge: the vast amount of energy required to obtain and maintain the virtual currency.

A university study released last week found the emissions produced by the worldwide network of computers that “mine” bitcoin sits “between the levels produced by the nations of Jordan and Sri Lanka, which is comparable to the level of Kansas City.”

Progress on federal data privacy bill slows in both chambers
Consensus is elusive, say congressional aides, industry sources and lobbyists

Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker says “there has been no timetable” for a data privacy bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Lawmakers and industry groups want to pass a federal data privacy law this year, but progress on the measure has slowed. It’s now unclear whether legislation resembling California’s tough requirements on the tech industry can clear hurdles in Congress and be signed into law before the end of the year. 

Small bipartisan groups of lawmakers in both chambers are working on draft legislation that was supposed to have been unveiled in May but has been delayed and is now expected to be released sometime before the August congressional recess. 

Trump repeats warnings and imposes new sanctions on Iran amid tension
The president said the U.S. does not ‘seek’ a conflict with Iran, but warned Tehran his recent restraint is not guaranteed

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Williamsport Regional Airport in Montoursville, Pa., on May 20, 2019. Trump said Monday he does not “seek” a conflict with Iran but warned Tehran his recent restraint is not guaranteed.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Trump on Monday said the United States does not “seek” a conflict with Iran, but warned Tehran his recent restraint is not guaranteed to continue as he prepared to slap new sanctions on the Middle East power.

“We do not seek conflict with Iran or any other country,” Trump told reporters at the White House, according to a pool report.

Trump’s poverty proposal prompts alarms over cuts to Medicaid, Head Start
By changing the poverty threshold calculation, thousands would no longer be eligible for Medicaid and food stamps

Staffers set up signs for Sen. Bernie Sanders' event to introduce the Medicare for All Act of 2017 on Sept. 13, 2017. The Trump administration may roll out a memo using an alternative way to calculate the poverty threshold, potentially cutting eligibility for programs like Medicaid, Medicare subsidies, food stamps, Head Start education for young children. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Experts are voicing alarm about a Trump administration plan to change how the federal poverty level is determined and potentially cut eligibility for programs like Medicaid, Medicare subsidies, food stamps, Head Start education for young children and low-income energy assistance.

The comment period for the Office of Management and Budget proposal closes Friday. Then the agency could roll out a memo that would use an alternative way to calculate the poverty threshold.

Democrats weave climate messages into spending bills
Aggressive action on climate change and halting rollback of environmental regulations

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., shepherds action on the House’s environmental spending measure. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats are using the budget process to offer a clear contrast ahead of an election year between their embrace of aggressive action on climate change and the rollbacks of environmental regulation championed by Republicans when they controlled the chamber in the 115th Congress.

Many of the provisions they’ve included in the fiscal 2020 spending bills may not survive the GOP-led Senate, but Democrats are aware of national polls showing growing voter concern about the climate crisis.

Road ahead: House and Senate seek to pass dueling border funding bills
Defense policy, election security and spending also on the agenda ahead of July Fourth

From right, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, Vice Chairman Patrick J. Leahy and Illinois Sen. Richard J. Durbin huddle Wednesday before the committee marked up a border supplemental package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Leaders in the House and Senate want to approve spending at least $4 billion more to address the influx of migrants and their humanitarian needs at the U.S.-Mexico border before the July Fourth recess.

Bills in the two chambers differ, however, raising doubts about whether there will be a resolution on President Donald Trump’s desk this month. 

Odd bedfellows share concerns over Pelosi drug plan
Conservatives and progressives wary of drug price arbitration, but for different reasons

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is developing a drug price plan that focuses on drug price arbitration. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Meet some of the former pros who’ve played in the Congressional Baseball Game
Bunning, Largent, Ryun and Shuler all had varying degrees of success on the diamond

Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent is greeted by his Republican teammates before the 2000 Congressional Baseball Game. Largent led the Republicans to victory in five of his seven games. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Reps. Colin Allred and Anthony Gonzalez won’t be the first former professional athletes to compete in the Congressional Baseball Game. Over the decades, Republicans and Democrats have looked to other ex-pros turned congressmen and their athletic talents in hopes of scoring on the diamond.

The late Sen. Jim Bunning is the only baseball Hall of Famer to come to Washington. Over a 17-season pitching career from 1955 to 1971, the Kentucky Republican won 224 games and had an earned run average of 3.27. Bunning won election to the House in 1986 and made his Congressional Baseball Game debut the following year. He was part of the winning GOP team at least three times as either pitcher or pitching coach. After two terms in the Senate, Bunning opted against re-election in 2010. He died in 2017 at age 85.

Jessica Cisneros wants to put her old boss out of office
Insurgent Democratic challenger was an intern in Henry Cuellar’s office five years ago. Now she’s running against him

A staffer in Rep. Henry Cuellar’s office referred to Jessica Cisneros as “Congresswoman Jess” when she was interning for the Texas Democrat. (Courtesy Jessica Cisneros for Congress)

Five years ago, Jessica Cisneros was a 20-year-old intern in Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar’s Washington office.

Now, two bachelor’s degrees and a law degree later, she’s running against him in the 2020 Democratic primary for Texas’ 28th District with backing from the group that helped New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sweep out longtime Democratic leader Joseph Crowley in a primary last year.

Trump energy plan faces legal blitz over weaker emissions standards
Democratic state AGs join environmental groups saying they’ll sue the federal government over the rule

Emissions spew from a large stack at the coal fired Brandon Shores Power Plant in Baltimore. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

Blue states and green groups are gearing up to sue the Trump administration over its new carbon emissions rule finalized Wednesday, which critics say fails to address climate change and the public health risks associated with pollution from the power sector.

The EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy rule rescinds the Obama administration’s ambitious Clean Power Plan and replaces it with less stringent guidelines for states and coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions.

When sanctions become weapons of mass disruption
A popular foreign policy tool can often have unintended consequences

Russian state energy firm Gazprom is leading work on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is the target of a sanctions bill by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Ted Cruz. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

These days, it seems lawmakers believe every foreign policy challenge can be resolved by imposing sanctions.

Worried that Russia will interfere in the 2020 presidential election? Concerned about the international community bringing Syria’s Bashar Assad in from the cold? Horrified by China’s mistreatment of its Uighur Muslim community? There are sanctions bills for all of them.

Capitol Ink | Inside Job

Tempers flare as leaders, White House fall short on spending deal
Failure to reach agreement after top-level meeting in Capitol

Senate appropriators, led by Chairman Richard Shelby, right, and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy have held off on beginning their regular process of moving spending bills pending some agreement among the House, Senate and White House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A meeting of top White House officials and congressional leaders broke up Wednesday without agreement on topline funding allocations for appropriators, raising fresh doubts over their ability to avert another fiscal crisis later this year.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy accused Democrats of upping the ante on nondefense spending from what they’d put on the table previously.