Washington — Despite a surprise veto threat that rattled Congress Friday morning, President Donald Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill, avoiding a federal government shutdown and sparing energy-related programs the steep cuts once envisioned by the White House.
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The omnibus spending bill reins in the federal government's FY-18 outlay to energy sector regulators, but stops short of several billions of dollars in reductions sought by the Trump administration. Appropriations for energy and water development at the departments of Energy and Interior as well as related agencies, such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, total $43.2 billion -- nearly $9 billion above the White House's budget request.
The omnibus also carves out more than $21 billion for energy, transportation, water and cyber projects to rebuild and enhance the country's aging infrastructure. This funding includes "targeted investments to protect our nation's energy infrastructure against cyber and other attacks," as well as $248 million "for research and development activities to strengthen the security of our electric grid," according to a House Appropriations Committee summary of the bill.
Trump tweeted Friday that he was "considering a VETO" of the bill for failing to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and not fully funding construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border that he has insisted is needed for national defense.
The tweet came after the president, just two days before, said he would back the legislation, which was swiftly shuttled through both the House and Senate as lawmakers seemingly lacked the appetite for another shutdown.
Though opposition from conservatives upset over spending increases and transparency issues stemming from the quick turnaround of the 2,200-plus-page omnibus bill almost scuttled a procedural vote on the matter Thursday, the House more easily clinched a 256-167 vote later that day to send the package to the Senate.
The Senate worked through the night, voting 65-32 at 12:40 am Friday to send the measure funding the federal government through the end of September to Trump's desk.
NATIONAL SECURITY OUTWEIGHED DESIRE FOR VETO
Trump's tweet just before 9 am Friday was an unexpected hurdle, catching congressional leaders and White House senior aides by surprise and raising fears of a potential shutdown. The president, during an afternoon press conference, criticized both the size in dollars and pages of the bill, but said he would sign it "as a matter of national security" though he was not happy about it.
"I will never sign another bill like this again," Trump said. "Nobody read it. It's only hours old. At $1.3 trillion, it's the second largest ever."
He attributed the omnibus' high price tag to needing "to take care of our military" and being forced by Democrats to add "things that they wanted in order to get their votes."
The president asked Congress to grant him a line-item veto for all government spending bills in order "to prevent the omnibus situation from ever happening again."
He also pushed for lawmakers to put an end to the filibuster rule. "We have to get a lot of great legislation approved and without the filibuster rule, it will happen just like magic," Trump said.
Responding to a shouted question about why he made the veto threat, Trump said, "I was thinking about doing the veto, but because of the incredible gains that we've been able to make for the military that overrode any of our thinking."
With Trump onboard, federal agencies will not have to contend with a lapse in appropriations.
From an energy perspective, many of the more ominous cuts and policy riders proposed by the White House and bashed by Democrats, environmentalists and clean energy advocates did not make it into the congressional spending deal.
OMNIBUS AVOIDED DRASTIC CUTS TO EPA, DOE SPENDING
The Environmental Protection Agency's FY-18 funding was frozen at the FY-17 level of $8.1 billion, as opposed to the White House's request of $5.7 billion. But the agency saw a $23.5 million reduction in spending for its regulatory programs, and staffing was held at its lowest level in 30 years.
DOE's energy programs got a $1.6 billion bump up from FY-17 to $12.9 billion. Of that, the department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy received $2.3 billion in FY-18, up from $2 billion in FY-17, to fund research, development, demonstration and deployment activities aimed at advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.
DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability received $248 million in FY-18. Of that, $5 million would go towards cyber and cyber-physical solutions for electric power utility companies, matching a FY-17 appropriation that helped fund a cooperative agreement with the American Public Power Association.
"Under this agreement [APPA] is working to develop security tools, educational resources, cybersecurity and cyber-resiliency guidelines, and training on common strategies that member utilities can use to improve their cyber and physical security," said Desmarie Waterhouse, the group's vice president of government relations and counsel.
With participation by more than 400 public power utilities, Waterhouse said, "This is exactly the sort of smart, targeted federal investment in cyber security that will deliver significant results for millions of public power customers nationwide."
FERC held on to its proposed increase, and would receive $367.6 million in FY-18, up $48.4 million or 15.2% from FY-17. Though FERC receives an appropriation from Congress, the agency is revenue-neutral in that it recovers all of its operational costs through annual charges and filing fees collected from the industries it regulates. With a net appropriation of $0, lawmakers do not view the commission as a burden on taxpayers.
The agriculture portion of the omnibus shaved $1 million from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's FY-17 funding level, bringing its FY-18 appropriation to $249 million. This again snubbed agency requests for an increase and irked that commission's members. --Jasmin Melvin, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Joe Fisher, email@example.com