Republicans Push Spending to Dump Waste in Reid Back Yard
A proposed nuclear waste dump outside Las Vegas that the U.S. Senate’s top Democrat has spent years trying to kill is back on the congressional agenda as Republicans are pushing for it in spending bills.
House Republicans want to provide $25 million to revive the Yucca Mountain site in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s home state of Nevada, one of the thousands of spending line items that lawmakers began considering last week. The waste site proposal illustrates the parties’ divergent visions for dividing as much as $1.047 trillion Congress can allocate for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
“There are different priorities on each side of the rotunda,” Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat and a member of the Appropriations Committee, said last week in an interview. “Then, of course, we’re in a presidential campaign year, and there are going to be differences, whether it comes to individual projects or overall spending. So all of these things together make it more challenging.”
Each chamber writes its version of the 12 bills funding the day-to-day operations of the federal government, and those measures often reflect the majority party’s spending priorities.
Senate Democrats, for example, unveiled a measure last week that would provide $248 million - more than three times as much as House Republicans are seeking - for a Justice Department grant program started by President Bill Clinton that supports community-oriented policing. Democrats who control the Senate also want to boost by $152 million the funds for the Community Development Block Grant housing program, which Republicans have sought to cut.
Early indications this year are that Republicans who control the House will seek to direct any funding increases to preferred programs such as the Yucca Mountain proposal. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, whose home state of Kentucky is the third-largest U.S. coal producer, has proposed increasing by $207 million, to $554 million, funding for projects supporting oil, natural gas and cleaner coal.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said in an April 17 interview that money for Yucca Mountain won’t be in the spending bill she is writing.
Reid was pleased by President Barack Obama’s 2010 decision to pull the Yucca Mountain project’s license application. Reid’s opposition to a waste site in Nevada means the Republican proposal won’t become law, as he controls the Senate agenda and can block it from advancing there.
‘Won’t Let It’
“The president won’t let it happen, I won’t let it happen,” Reid said April 19 in an interview.
Still, the dispute will be played out again this year in the appropriations process. Last year, the House-passed bill funding energy programs included $45 million for activities related to Yucca Mountain and barred funding to shutter the project. Those provisions didn’t become law.
While this year’s spending debate reprises many of the policy fights of past years, several additional factors will make this round of decisions especially complicated.
House Republican leaders opted to work with a pot of discretionary money for fiscal 2013 that is $19 billion less than the $1.047 trillion cap set in the August law raising the federal debt ceiling. Current funding for government operations expires Sept. 30, and lawmakers say they probably will have to pass a stopgap measure before then to avert a government shutdown as individual spending bills won’t be completed.
Across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect in January create an incentive for those who write spending bills to target funding increases to favored projects, further squeezing other programs.
Limiting Policy Changes
Rogers is seeking to gain Democratic votes for spending bills by limiting policy changes that in the past have prompted Democratic opposition, said a Republican aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.
While minimizing policy prescriptions in the bills was a favorable step, differences over funding priorities probably will prompt House Democrats to oppose Republicans’ spending proposals, Washington Representative Norm Dicks, the House’s top Democratic appropriator, said last week in an interview.
Senate appropriators last week unveiled how they would distribute the discretionary funds over 12 subcommittees. The panels that fund the Agriculture, Interior, Labor, Education, Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs departments, as well as agencies including the Internal Revenue Service and Environmental Protection Agency, will receive more funds than last year.
The subcommittees that fund the Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, State and Transportation departments will receive less.
Senate Democrats said it was a positive signal that Republicans in their chamber agreed to a higher funding level than the House adopted.
“I thought it was a very encouraging sign, what happened in the appropriations committee,” Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, said last week in an interview. “The Senate Republicans, over the last several months, have been showing a desire to reach out and work with us and I think that’s very healthy for the country, on this issue in particular.”
In December, hours before the government was set to shut down, lawmakers passed a $1 trillion, 1,200-page measure funding the operations of hundreds of government programs across 10 Cabinet agencies. The government had operated for almost three months of the new fiscal year through stopgap spending measures.
Appropriators say that while their preference would be to pass each spending bill individually this year, lawmakers are likely to wind up combining at least some of them.
“We’re going to pass our bills in the House here, and we’ll see what happens in the Senate,” Representative Tom Latham, an Iowa Republican and Appropriations Committee member, said last week in an interview. “It’s going to be difficult to get the bills done and signed into law by the end of the fiscal year.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at Jschneider50@bloomberg.net