Democrats Puzzle Over Climate Select Committee Funding

“We don’t know where the funding is coming from,” said House Natural Resources Chair Raul Grijalva.

Rep. Raul Grijalva
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Jan. 6, 2019, 8 p.m.

Democratic committee leaders are warming up to a House select committee on climate change—so long as it doesn’t deprive their panels of cash.

All standing committee chairs signed off last week on a rules package to establish a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis despite some public and forceful opposition in December.

And those leaders now say they’re working with Rep. Kathy Castor, the forthcoming head of the climate panel, to advance a robust agenda to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and combat rising global temperatures.

But a decision to fund the new panel from the coffers of standing committees may lead to a different calculus.

“My position has been, ‘Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul,’” Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva told National Journal. “We don’t know where the funding is coming from.”

Grijalva and other top Democrats say Speaker Nancy Pelosi has assured them the climate panel won’t jeopardize existing resources. A spokesperson for Pelosi said details are not yet available on funding.

The speaker, meanwhile, will have to act quickly to secure long-term funds for the panel. Under House rules, the select committee can operate on interim funding vouchers only through April 1. The lower chamber must pass a primary resolution for the panel to lock in funding for the remainder of the Congress.

A clear precedent exists for the funding. The 110th Congress, led by Pelosi during the tenure of President George W. Bush, funded a Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming at just below $3.73 million, including staff expenses.

That figure paled in comparison to standing committees during that Congress. The Energy and Commerce Committee operated on a roughly $21.06 million budget, and Congress funded the Natural Resources Committee at just under $15.29 million. Those two standing committees will share jurisdiction most closely with the select committee.

Now, Castor is aiming to assure the public that the panel won’t face funding challenges.

“I don’t know the exact levels. The speaker has assured me that it will be at least on par with the last select committee,” she told National Journal. “I think it’s all under discussion right now. … It’s not going to be a problem.”

But the House is already operating on a slimmer budget compared to years past. The 115th Congress provided the Energy and Commerce Committee with $20.53 million and Natural Resources with $13.76 million. That’s a roughly $500,000 reduction for Energy and Commerce since the 110th Congress, and a $1.5 million reduction for Natural Resources.

President Trump signed a minibus appropriations bill in September to fund the Energy Department, the Veterans Affairs Department, and the Legislative Branch, and that legislation perpetuated a 10 percent spending reduction for the House.

Now House Democrats, eager to legislate after eight years in the minority, are already trying to protect funds they haven’t yet received.

“I have not been told they’re going to reduce my funding,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio said. “We have control over the budget around here and the House [Administration Committee], so I don’t think we have to bleed other committees to fund that committee.

“I’m just getting an increase in my funding for the first time in a decade and hiring up staff on my committee,” he said, referring to the increased funds that come with taking the majority. “And the leadership has not told me to go slow or worry about any cuts.”

Leadership will now team up with the House Administration Committee and appropriators to set the funding thresholds.

“We will be consulting with not only the select committee but also the leadership to see what’s necessary to do a good job,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the new Administration chair. “I am sure that the leadership wants funding that is sufficient for the select committee to perform its job.”

Committee chairs scored a relative victory in stripping the climate committee of legislative and subpoena power, despite pushback from Castor and firebrand young members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has spearheaded a tentative Green New Deal proposal. The previous climate select committee, led by then-Rep. Ed Markey, had subpoena power but used it sparingly.

Still, a mild resentment towards the panel, which will be composed of a yet-to-be-identified eight additional Democrats and six Republicans, appears to remain among some heavyweight Democrats.

“We’re all in favor of the goal. That’s for sure. But I also think there are some of us who have a long history of being interested in the issue and also having the desire to tackle the issue [through] regular order,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal told National Journal.

And, unsurprisingly, the panel is generating criticism from Republicans, who have largely opposed climate-change policy.

“This select committee presents an opportunity for serious discussions about climate change,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the top Republican on the previous select panel, said in a statement. “I am concerned with this committee being hijacked by those pushing preconceived, destructive policies that will derail our economy and harm American families. As I did successfully during my previous tenure as Ranking Member, I want to keep the discussion focused on the real economic impact of any proposal put forth by the Democratic majority.”

Most House Democrats, however, are prioritizing a big push on climate policy despite certain rejection in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The Democratic takeover comes amid a spate of U.N. and U.S. reports that spell out dire consequences of inaction. The Trump administration has lashed out at a report its own government authored, dubbed the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which said global temperatures could rise as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

“Our world is falling down and burning up all around us,” Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings told National Journal, while giving a nod to the select committee. “The more troops we have confronting the issue the better.”

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