The Rules panel’s jurisdiction extends solely to legislative process matters, so it lacks an option to block the bill on substantive grounds, aides say.
Rules Committee aides have argued that H.R. 1280’s demand for congressional votes on each nuclear trade pact--which average no more than one or two per year, experts say--would put too much of a burden on the legislation calendar and thus should not move into the general chamber for consideration, said one House staffer.
Another reason for the panel’s opposition is the notion that additional congressional oversight of nuclear trade pacts in the form of floor votes is overkill, once lawmakers have empowered the executive branch to negotiate such deals, said one longtime industry consultant.
“So that’s the hang-up in the Rules Committee, if there is one,” said this source, adding: "It’s not just” panel Chairman David Dreier [R-Calif.] who has qualms about the bill.
Dreier does not sit on the chamber’s Foreign Affairs or energy-related committees, but the 16-term lawmaker does have some notable ties to the nuclear industry.
One longtime lobbyist for the nuclear energy sector is also one of Dreier’s major campaign contributors. Richard Hohlt and his wife, Deborah Messick Hohlt, have donated nearly $15,000 to Dreier’s reelection campaigns since 2008.
A private consultant, Hohlt represented the Nuclear Energy Institute on Capitol Hill through 2007. More recently, he has lobbied on behalf of Pinnacle West, a nuclear energy provider in western U.S. states.
Reached by phone on Friday, Hohlt said he has not lobbied on this particular piece of legislation or talked personally with Dreier in the past two years.
Dreier’s top campaign contributors this year also include several nuclear energy interests, among them industry heavyweight General Electric. A GE political action committee and individuals representing the company have contributed more than $28,000 to Dreier’s reelection bids since 1996, according to federal filings.
Another of the chairman’s big donors, Ernst & Young, lobbies on behalf of General Electric and more recently gave a $2,000 gift this year and $3,000 in 2010.
The Nuclear Energy Institute was not recorded among Dreier’s top 100 contributors until this year, when it gave the lawmaker $1,000.
Dreier on Feb. 29 announced he planned to retire from the House at the end of the year.
The lawmaker’s spokeswoman declined to respond to questions about his position on H.R. 1280 and whether he has discussed the legislation with other House GOP leaders or industry lobbyists.
The broader U.S. nuclear energy lobby, however, is likely larger and more influential than it appears, with the extent of links to particular lawmakers impossible to fully track .
That said, other nuclear industry players have lavished funds on other political candidates who ultimately might cast votes on the nuclear nonproliferation bill. Seven nuclear energy companies--most led by executives who also sit on the NEI board of directors--have injected more than $3.5 million into political campaigns since January 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Nuclear Energy Institute itself gave more than $325,000 to federal candidates in 2010 and, thus far this year, has made $170,000 in such donations, according to CRP data. Just over 53 percent of its political contributions during the 2010 campaign went to Democrats, while Republicans have a slight edge in NEI contributions thus far this year.
U.S. law requires lobbyists to disclose their work only if their activities on behalf of a particular client exceeds contact with more than one government official or takes up more than 20 percent of the advocate’s time.
“It’s come to be known as the ‘Gingrich Rule,’ ” said Viveca Novac, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics. Many of the former GOP presidential candidate’s political opponents viewed his Washington advocacy for Fannie Mae as lobbying, although Newt Gingrich insisted he consulted for the mortgage giant as a historian.
“That’s a Monday,” said Novak, underscoring that lobbying for a client one full day each week--one-fifth or less of a Washington insider’s work time--need not be divulged under the law.
Meanwhile, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said that it is important for all proposed legislation, including the Atomic Energy Act reform measure, to undergo a deliberative process on Capitol Hill “so that different committees [and] members can address any concerns they may have.”
“So [we] won’t have a position on the legislation until all committees with jurisdiction are able to work on the legislation,” Buck told GSN this week.