The Partisan Tug-of-War Over EPA's Budget

House Republicans are trying to slash the size of the EPA while also limiting its ability to regulate, which they argue will help the economy in places like Virginia. 

One of the last spending battles for the year in Congress is setting up to be over the EPA and House Republicans just sent a strong signal to the agency in a proposal that just passed the spending committee: the bill slashes the agency’s budget by nine percent. Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith says the proposal isn’t intended to stop regulators on the ground.

“The EPA has a part of or all of twelve office buildings in Washington, DC. So you know, their budget is huge. It has grown faster than the national budget. And it’s time that, you know, we said, OK, wait a minute. Let’s cut back some of the bureaucrats. We’re going to leave all the field people out there, but let’s cut back some of the bureaucrats. And the way to do that is to cut the budget.”

Virginia Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott says the spending cut isn’t what he’s worried about.  

“Well, their attempt to cut the funding for the EPA would be the least of the problems. There have been many amendments that have restricted EPA’s ability to control mercury in the water and the air, for the EPA to do anything.”

Northern Virginia Democratic Congressman Jim Moran says the GOP proposal is a step back for the nation.

“There are other amendments that undermine the Endangered Species Act, that allow mountaintop mining removal to go unchecked, just a whole series of things that are designed to deny climate change and generally to protect our environment.”

Republicans are also using the spending measure to try to force policy changes. The EPA is still reviewing public comments for its new rule that limits the construction of new coal fired power plants because it requires drastic reductions of green house gases. The Republican spending proposal scraps that rule. Moran says it’s obvious why the GOP wants to scrap the rule even though the public comment period is still open.

“Yeah, they don’t want comments. They want to kill it because there are a number of special interests, mining companies with a lot of money.”

But Congressman Griffith he doesn’t need to hear public comments to know the rule would cost jobs in his south western district.  

“It’s one of those rules that is obviously so flawed. It has philosophical flaws and severe legal flaws. Why should we even spend money on the public comment process? If we can shorten it and get it over with now, let’s do it.”

The Republican budget blueprint is unlikely to become law because Senate Democrats and the White House oppose it. But it’s becoming one of the defining issues in this year’s elections and Griffith argues the debate shows why voters should give Republicans the Senate this fall.

“And then the Senate is supposed to take action. Now, lately they’ve been the Senate of inaction. But they’re supposed to take action and work their will. And then we see if we can come up with a compromise. Their attitude has been just to say, no. But anytime folks say, well, this is probably just going to die in the Senate, I’m reminded of the words specifically in – Jefferson’s manual, which both bodies operate as their base of their rules, says, each house is to act independently of the other.”

Congressman Scott sees it differently.

“Well, the message from the Republicans is, if they take over the Senate they will be able to pass bills that make it easier to pollute the air and water. The amendments that have passed in the House significantly restrict the EPA’s ability to control air and water pollution. And I suppose if they have control of the Senate those bills would be more likely to pass Congress.”

And Congressman Moran sees it a little differently still. He says if voters give the GOP the keys to the Senate, they’ll turn off the car.  

“If Republicans get the Senate nothing’s going to happen for two years other than a whole lot of political rhetoric on both sides.”

Some analysts say the tug of war over the EPA’s budget and its pending regulations could tilt control of the Senate to Republicans this fall. If that happens, the spending fights on Capitol Hill will shift – as Republicans in Congress will be more powerful and they’ll be battling the White House directly. That could mean a volley of veto threats - and veto’s – between the Obama White House and Republicans in Congress.