If early Republican enthusiasm is any indication, the upcoming Sept. 30 deadline to keep the federal government open could turn into an all-out war over President Barack Obama’s executive actions to combat climate change.
As TPM reported earlier this week, senior House Republicans are considering using appropriations legislation to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s new restrictions on coal-fired power plants, aimed at cutting climate-warming pollution by 30 percent by 2030.
On Tuesday, numerous Senate Republicans expressed strong support for the idea.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of support on our side for trying to block that. And I hope with some Democrats too,” Senate Republican Conference Chair John Thune (R-SD) told TPM. “The power of the purse is one power Congress has, and if you want to send a clear message to the administration about a series of regulations that you think are very detrimental, one way to do that would be through the appropriations process.”
Thune, the No. 3 GOP senator, said his party will support “anything we can do to prevent the administration from going forward with what are really poorly timed, very burdensome, very expensive … regulations.”
Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said Republicans ought to consider reversing what he described as presidential overreach by Obama on environmental regulations.
“I think Congress needs to give serious thought to utilizing its constitutional power — the power to fund or not fund,” he told TPM. Asked about using the appropriations bill to undo the EPA rules, he said, “That’s one of the powers that Congress clearly has.”
The Senate will consider appropriations bills this week. If Republicans insist on prohibiting implementation of the EPA rule in order to keep the government running past September, it could spark another shutdown standoff. Democrats strongly support Obama’s environmental regulations and they intend to block attempts to undo them.
Retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) told TPM the idea is “something that will be discussed, I’m sure.”
“Obviously there are a lot of us that are concerned about those regulations and it’s going to be a huge blow to the economy,” he said. “And whatever we can do to keep that from happening, we’re going to consider it.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told TPM he’d be “totally supportive” of using government funding legislation to block the EPA rules.
“I’m a manufacturer. You actually need power if you’re going to manufacture things,” he said. “Let’s not drive, artificially, the cost of power up — that’s a self-inflicted would. That’s what this administration is doing and I have no idea why they’d want to do that.”
Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he’ll do everything in his power to fight the EPA’s so-called “waters of the U.S.” rule — a regulation proposed in April aimed at protecting the country’s streams and wetlands from pollution — which agribusinesses fear will harm them.
“I strongly oppose the proposed rule,” Hoeven said. Asked if he intends to attach an amendment to the appropriations bill blocking the EPA rule, he said, “That’s my intent. … Anything I can attach it to that makes it though — I’m gonna do it.”
The dispute that usually sparks shutdowns is about how much the federal government should spend. That’s not a problem this time because the two sides have agreed to spend $1.014 trillion in fiscal year 2015. But the environmental regulations have become a cause célèbre in Republican circles, igniting interest in finding ways to force the president to back down.
TPM asked Sen. Johnson if he worries the strategy could lead to another government shutdown just one month before the congressional elections.
“We should not, obviously — the federal government does enough harm to our economy. We need to bring a little more certainty,” the senator said. “So I’m not in favor of threatening government shutdowns.”
It’s too early to know if Republicans will withhold support for funding the government unless Democrats agree to block the EPA rules. But if they pursue the course several of them have suggested and refuse to back down, this summer could turn into a replay of last year’s standoff — only over environmental regulations rather than Obamacare — where one side backs down or Congress shuts down parts of the federal government.