The Senate on Friday approved a budget resolution that will provide a path for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, but Republicans first used a series of amendments to force Democrats to take stands on numerous environmental and immigration issues, including the reach of federal water regulations.
During a relatively rare all-night session, the Senate narrowly went on record in favor of protecting a Trump-era rule restricting the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. An anti-biofuels amendment sponsored by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a staunch ally of oil refiners, divided his fellow Republicans and was overwhelmingly defeated.
The budget resolution ultimately passed along party lines, 51-50, after Democratic leaders stripped out controversial GOP amendments. Vice President Kamala Harris cast the deciding vote. Passage of the resolution will allow Congress to use the budget reconciliation process to enact the stimulus package with a simple majority in the Senate, bypassing the normal 60-vote threshold required. T
The House approved the resolution later Friday, 219-209.
One of the quirks of the budget process in the Senate is that it empowers the minority party to force numerous votes on messaging amendments.
The Senate voted 51-49 in favor of preserving the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which redefined the “waters of the U.S.,” the wetlands, ponds, streams and rivers that are regulated under the Clean Water Act. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined Republicans in voting in favor of the NWPR, which was finalized in 2020.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the Trump rule was “clear common-sense policy, and states like it.” She said that replacing the NWPR with something like the more expansive Obama-era WOTUS rule would “devastate farmers, manufacturers and small-business owners.”
But EPW Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., argued that the Trump rule would leave “critical wetlands and headwaters” unprotected by federal regulations and “ensure the transport of pollution downstream.”
The biofuels amendment sponsored by Cruz and defeated on a 26-74 vote called for allowing the issuance of credits, or Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs, of just 10 cents a gallon for conventional ethanol during the pandemic.
“This amendment is intended to provide relief to the tens of thousands of blue-collar workers that work in refineries,” said Cruz, saying that RINs had “skyrocketed” to as high as $1.12 a gallon. “That means $15 billion in regulatory costs for refineries.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, accused Cruz of hypocrisy, saying he was a “free-market person” trying to interfere in the RIN market. “This is big oil vs. clean-burning ethanol,” Grassley said.
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On another issue, the Senate voted 58-42 to prohibit stimulus checks from going to illegal immigrants. Eight Democrats joined Republicans to support that amendment, sponsored by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind. There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, including about 1 million who work in agriculture.
Also approved, 52-48, was an amendment sponsored by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., expressing support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, for which Biden has withdrawn a necessary permit. Manchin and Jon Tester, D-Mont., joined Republicans in supporting the amendment.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., forced Democrats to go on record on the issue of a carbon tax. His amendment opposing such a tax failed on a party-line 50-50 vote.
The Senate voted 99-1 to ensure that rural hospitals get at least 20% of the funding for health care facilities in the stimulus package.
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