The “Snowzilla” storm has wreaked havoc on the congressional schedule, as the House has scrapped its entire session for the week—essentially creating an unplanned recess—while the Senate has pushed its own plans back a day.
Instead of starting its work Tuesday, as originally scheduled, the Senate will vote Wednesday night on the nomination of John Michael Vazquez for a U.S. District Court judgeship. Then the Senate is set to dive back into the high-intensity energy debate with expected floor consideration of a bipartisan energy bill, covering issues such as energy efficiency, infrastructure modernization, and critical-minerals mining.
But it’s unclear whether cooperation on energy that marked the end of 2015, when Congress and the White House struck a deal on allowing crude-oil exports while extending green-electricity tax breaks, will carry over into the new year.
The bill arrives on the floor with support across party lines. Last year, it cleared the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a bipartisan 18-4 vote, but the floor debate could get tricky (a similar House bill lost its Democratic cooperation on its path to passage). Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised an open amendment process, which means the bill could see debates over tough issues like climate change, fossil fuel development and the Obama administration’s decision to put the brakes on new coal leases on federal lands.
Already, GOP Sen. John Barrasso, a member of the Republican leadership team, has signaled that he wants a floor battle over President Obama’s coal-leasing moratorium. And Heritage Action, a prominent conservative political group, came out swinging against the bill Friday. The group says provisions on energy-efficiency job training, electric vehicles, and other measures are inappropriate, taxpayer-backed intrusions into energy markets.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the chairwoman of the Energy Committee, made the case for the bill when she gave the GOP’s weekly address released Saturday. She touted provisions to expedite liquefied-natural-gas exports, promote hydropower, overhaul the Energy Department’s controversial loan programs, and more.
“It will help America produce more energy. It will help Americans pay less for energy. And it will firmly establish America as a global energy superpower,” she said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take a look Tuesday at Majority Whip John Cornyn’s mental health proposal—just one of several bills that have been introduced this congressional session. Reforming the mental-health system is a top issue this year, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing last week on the matter.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will tackle another hot-button issue—heroin and prescription-drug abuse. It’s one that’s cropped up quite often on the campaign trail, as several candidates, such as Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush, have talked openly and intimately about their children’s struggles with addiction.
Obama won’t stray far from the White House this week while Washington digs out from the weekend’s massive snowstorm. He’ll be indoors until Wednesday when he goes to a ceremony at the Israeli Embassy for a ceremony presenting the prestigious “Righteous Among the Nations” award. On Thursday, he is scheduled to go to Baltimore to address House Democrats at their annual Issues Conference.