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House Republican leaders work to fuse support for energy package

Debt limit deadline could be chance to push Democrats on energy policy changes

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., says Republicans want all of HR 1 enacted.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., says Republicans want all of HR 1 enacted. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ORLANDO, Fla. — House Republicans spent the last day of their annual issues conference discussing their top legislative priority, an energy package dubbed HR 1, that will test the new majority’s ability to unite around major legislation when it hits the floor next week.

If they pass the bill with their slim four-seat majority, it could provide them with a rebuttal to Democratic attacks that Republicans can’t coalesce around major economic issues or obtain enough votes on their side for any legislative demands they make around the debt limit. 

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has already floated provisions to overhaul the energy and infrastructure permitting process, a key component of HR 1, as legislation that could be attached to the debt limit. He mentioned it in a discussion with President Joe Biden on Friday and in multiple conversations with reporters during the Republican issue conference held Sunday through Tuesday. 

“What I explained to [Biden] is none of your clean energy is going to get built and none of your infrastructure is going to get built because the permitting process is so bad in America,” McCarthy said, referencing Biden priorities enacted in the previous Congress. “So there’s a lot of positive things we could do. … There’s things we can do legislatively that could also play into that debt ceiling as well.”

Other Republicans agree the upcoming debt limit deadline could be an opportunity to push Democrats on the energy policy changes they’re proposing in HR 1, although they’re focused first on passing the bill in the House. 

“You’ve got to grow the economy when you’re talking about the debt,” House Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., said in an interview. “We have no better opportunity to do that than with our energy and mining and building things here. If you can’t build stuff here, if you can’t use the resources that we’ve got, then we’re simply taking the wealth that we’ve accumulated over time and we’re exporting that to some other country.”

The Republican Study Committee, the largest GOP caucus, asked its membership earlier this month to rank their top three policies that should be attached to the debt limit increase. Of the 10 choices in the survey, “a package of inflation-busting reforms to increase domestic energy capacity and reduce associated regulatory and permitting barriers” emerged as the favorite. 

That’s how Republicans view HR 1 in a nutshell. The 175-page measure combines several individual bills reported out of the House Energy and Commerce, Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.  

‘We want all of it enacted’

Its provisions would streamline the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act, require more oil and gas lease sales, alter revenue sharing splits between the federal government and states and localities to provide parity for states with ​​onshore and offshore energy development, reduce barriers to domestic critical mineral mining and more.

Finding a path for their energy priorities to become law is important for Republicans who campaigned on increasing domestic energy production and lowering gas prices. That was one of the key economic planks of their Commitment to America agenda. 

“We want all of it enacted,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., the bill’s sponsor, said in an interview. “HR 1, if passed, it will lower costs for families really quickly. And so we’re happy to have a negotiation with the president on lowering energy costs. We’re clearly already starting a negotiation with the president on the debt ceiling.”

While McCarthy and Biden have spoken about the debt ceiling, the president and congressional Democrats are saying they want a clean debt limit increase and won’t negotiate on any conditions to be attached. McCarthy has warned House Republicans will not take up a clean debt limit increase, but that any policies outside of tax increases are on the table for riding on the must-pass measure.

Treasury has been using so-called extraordinary measures to pay U.S. obligations since February and expects to run out of cash to continue payments without a hike in the borrowing ceiling as early as June. 

Many Democrats are interested in a permitting overhaul, understanding it is key to bringing more renewable energy projects online in the timeline needed to help slow carbon emissions. But they’ve already branded the House GOP legislation as a massive giveaway to the fossil fuel industry. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer has declared it “dead on arrival” in his chamber. 

“It’s not difficult to see that the Republican proposal is nothing more than a wish list for Big Oil masquerading as an energy package,” the New York Democrat said in floor remarks last week, saying the measure excludes environmental safeguards in the permitting process that would be key to winning his party’s support. 

“We can still get something done,” Schumer added. “Fortunately, many Democrats and Republicans understand that we need bipartisanship in order to produce a real energy package. As we speak there are talks happening in good faith about the possibilities of a permitting deal.”

Westerman said he’s party to such bipartisan, bicameral permitting talks with lawmakers like Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. – “people who understand the issue a lot better than Chuck Schumer.”

‘All as one’

Despite the hope Democrats will support a permitting overhaul, Republicans aren’t using HR 1 to test the bipartisan appeal of their plan. McCarthy said they won’t use a procedure called division of the question to separate permit policy from the more partisan provisions in the package, like ones that repeal key pieces of Democrats’ 2022 climate law.  

“We’ll bring it all as one,” he said. 

The speaker still hopes HR 1 will win some Democratic votes after a rigorous floor debate over its merits. 

“At the end of the day, we probably can,” McCarthy. “I’m an optimist.”

Republicans say Democrats are misrepresenting their bill as being all about fossil fuels when it seeks to spur domestic energy production of all types. 

“Renewables are going to be a growing part of any energy portfolio, but they’re certainly not going to be the predominant portion because they don’t provide baseload capacity,” Scalise said. “Maybe they will one day. And we include language in this bill that encourages more wind energy on federal lands, but they shouldn’t be subsidized. They all should stand on their own. And that’s the only way every form of energy is going to get even cleaner and better.”

McCarthy said there will be amendment votes on the bill, but he indicated it’s more likely to be brought to the floor under a structured rule with predetermined amendments rather than an open one that allows unlimited offerings. 

The energy policies in HR 1 have already been heavily vetted as Republicans spent a year traveling and talking to constituents and developing their Commitment to America agenda, McCarthy argued. Other Republicans pointed to all the amendments considered in the committees’ markups.

To keep their party united on HR 1, Republicans made sure not to delve into issues that have divided them in the past. For example, the measure would preserve the existing moratorium on drilling off the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

“The Florida delegation is pretty well united in the fact that we don’t want to see new drilling offshore,” GOP Rep. Carlos Gimenez said. He said they might offer an amendment to codify the moratorium, which has been upheld through executive order, but that he’s comfortable with the bill as is since the existing ban doesn’t expire until 2032.

Fellow Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said he doesn’t think an amendment to codify the moratorium is necessary. If the delegation offers one, the GOP members wouldn’t condition their support for the bill on its inclusion, given other Republicans oppose codifying the moratorium and they don’t want to undermine support for the larger package, he said.

That issue is just one example of how Republicans have navigated their own intraparty dynamics as they put together HR 1 and prepare to bring it to the floor. 

“We’ve worked really hard with the members on our dais in the committee and across the conference to try to flag any issues that could be detrimental to the bill,” Westerman said. “We’re still working through some of those, but I feel like we’re in a really good place with the legislation right now.”

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