This week, the House will vote on and amend S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, to include a number of previously House passed legislation. Separately, the House will also vote to go to conference with the Senate on this same legislation.
Earlier this year, Heritage Action key voted final passage of S. 2012 in the Senate because the bill contained very few meaningful conservative victories and included numerous provisions that expanded the government footprint. Even worse as the bill worked its way through the Senate it was continually made worse by Democrat and Republican amendments.
This week, the House will consider H.R. 5055 the FY 2017 Energy & Water Appropriations bill. This legislation provides funding for projects under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Energy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The bill spends a total of $37.4 billion, which is $259 million above FY16 enacted levels and $168 million above the President’s request. Furthermore, it aligns with the spending caps enacted as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) last fall.
Each individual appropriations measure should be evaluated on the following three criteria: 1) level of spending; 2) funding of bad programs; and 3) exclusion of conservative policy riders. On the first two counts the House’s version of the FY17 Energy & Water Appropriations bill certainly falls short. On the third, the bill includes some of the key riders conservatives demand. That said, few are likely to become law — as last year’s House-passed E&W demonstrated when important riders were ultimately left out of the December omnibus — while the elevated spending levels appear on track. The Senate-passed E&W bill, with its lack of important riders, defines the upper chamber’s position.
Next week the House will take up the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), setting forth funding authorization levels and laws that guide our Department of Defense for the upcoming fiscal year. Late last month, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) passed the bill out of committee that authorizes base defense spending at $551 billion and includes $59 for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which qualifies as emergency spending and therefore is not subject to the recently revised budget caps.
While the title of this additional funding would suggest that it is solely for “overseas operations,” the truth is that this emergency spending stream has often been used for non-emergency base defense priorities that should be funded in the regular defense budget. Just last year Heritage Action’s CEO Mike Needham and Steve Bucci, former Heritage Foundation Director of the Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy Studies, wrote about the use of OCO as an emergency funding gimmick:
Several weeks ago, I analyzed how newly-elected Members of Congress voted on defense issues during debate over HR 1. Conventional wisdom was that these Freshman would be the ones leading the charge to cut defense, but the votes told a different story.
Today, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and 22 of her Freshman colleagues sent a letter to Republican leadership urging them to support their “commitment in the Pledge to America to provide for a ‘robust defense.’” It urges “support for funding our military and related national security programs above the President’s request level” for the FY 2012 budget, which the House will be debate in April.
Not surprisingly, the Freshman class is bucking conventional wisdom and demonstrating a firm grasp of one of their main Constitutional obligations, which is to provide for the common defense.
Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report detailing billions of dollars in wasteful government spending. This report confirms what many of us already knew: the federal government wastes a lot of our money.
Congress should take this report very seriously and work to root out as much waste as possible; however, conservatives should be careful not to oversell this effort. While important, it alone will not bring our fiscal house in order.