Congress wrapped up the 114th session early Saturday, a tumultuous two years marked by the resignation of a House speaker, a fight over a Supreme Court vacancy, the first overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act since it was approved in 1976, cybersecurity legislation that would encourage companies to share cyber-threat information with the government, $1.1 billion to combat the threat of the Zika virus and legislation authorizing hundreds of water projects, including measures to help Flint, Michigan rid its water of poisonous lead – but no energy or tax extenders bill.
It’s not for a lack of effort, however.
In the waning days of the 114th Congress, the Senate sent a counteroffer on an energy bill to the House adding provisions previously rejected by the House in their counteroffer to a Senate offer earlier last month. In the end, the House Republicans were reluctant to make deals on any significant legislation in the lame duck session because they believed — correctly so — they could get a better deal in the next Congress no longer facing the threat of a presidential veto with Donald Trump in the White House.
Regarding tax extenders, ELCON, along with a large coalition interests, met in October and November on Capitol Hill with key staffers trying to extend through 2017 the tax credits – including those for Combined Heat and Power – left out of last years’ tax bill. The meetings were not encouraging, ending with a meeting in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in which we were told that the Senate did not plan to transmit a tax bill to the House in the lame duck session. They didn’t. Nevertheless, the coalition is sending a letter up to the Hill encouraging Congress to promptly approve a seamless, multi-year extension of the tax provisions when the 115th Congress convenes.
With the new year, the energy world of Washington will see some significant changes. For the first time in almost 10 years, the Republicans will have a majority in both houses of Congress and occupy the White House — a rare occurrence. The last time Republicans controlled both the executive and legislative branches was in 1953-55, when Dwight Eisenhower was President, the GOP held a clear majority in the House, and Republicans gained a slim 48 to 47 margin over Democrats in the Senate (with one Republican-leaning independent senator).
With the new administration comes new leaders of the Departments of Energy (apparently former Texas Governor Rick Perry) and Interior, EPA, and up to four new members on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with the chair being Republican. The Energy and Commerce Committee in the House gets a new chair Rep. Greg Walden (R- OR), who is mostly noted for his work on telecommunications issues as former chair of that subcommittee. Keep in mind that the Democrats in the Senate do have enough votes to filibuster legislation so they won’t be completely out of the picture.
Everybody in town is trying to predict what the next four years bring but, especially given the president-elect’s eclectic views on issues, nobody really knows. However, there is one safe prediction — things are going to be different in D.C.