Prospects for timely passage of a permanent 2020 budget for the Department of Energy and other agencies dimmed a little this week, when most Senate Democrats refused to curtail debate on spending legislation that includes funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed southern border wall.
The Senate failed Thursday to invoke cloture on a basket of budget bills, including DOE and Pentagon spending measures, by a vote of 51-41. The motion needed 60 votes to pass, which would have required significant buy-in from Democrats. Only two, Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), voted in favor of cloture.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the cloture vote and send the bill toward a floor vote.
Three weeks now remain before federal funding lapses at the end of a continuing resolution that has kept the government running in the absence of signed appropriations bills after the Oct. 1 start of the 2020 fiscal year.
Two Capitol Hill sources on Thursday told RadWaste Monitor affiliate publication Defense Daily that meetings between congressional leaders and the White House appear to be making headway on the outstanding spending bills.
However, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has told reporters the Senate might have to extend 2019 budgets into the spring with another continuing resolution. The current stopgap bill runs out Nov. 21.
A couple sources in the Energy Department nuclear community said recently they expect another continuing resolution into January to keep federal agencies going.
The House has passed 10 of its 12 appropriations bills for fiscal 2020, including the energy and water development measure covering DOE, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and other federal operations. The Senate Appropriations Committee in September passed its corresponding energy and water bill, among others. The full chamber on Thursday did approve a separate package with money for agencies including the Justice and Interior departments.
Under the current continuing resolution, the NRC, regulator of commercial nuclear waste and power operations, is funded at the annualized level of ust over $910 million. That is $10 million less than it requested for fiscal 2020, but more than the $900 million offered by the House or the roughly $855 million recommended by the Senate.
House and Senate appropriators have so far rejected the combined request of roughly $150 million from DOE and the NRC to resume licensing of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. This is the third budget cycle in which the Trump administration has asked Congress to appropriate money for the proceeding defunded a decade ago by the Obama administration. It appears almost certain to be the third time it gets nothing for that job from Capitol Hill.
Vivienne Machi, staff reporter for Defense Daily, contributed to this report from Washington.