The Minibus Spending Bill Shortchanges American Jobs and Energy

In this Thursday, May 12, 2016 photo, a "For Rent" sign is taped to a storefront window in the coal town of Welch, West Virginia.

The House of Representatives is considering a spending bill for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year that would make huge cuts to groundbreaking science and energy research and development—and even cut jobs programs in coal country—all while shoveling even more money than President Donald Trump requested to the U.S. Department of Defense. This bill is known as a “minibus,” because it combines several of the annual appropriations bills that Congress must pass to fund the government; an “omnibus” package would include all 12 appropriations bills. This minibus includes four appropriations bills: defense, military construction and veterans’ affairs, legislative branch, and energy and water.

This minibus is a symptom of the larger problem with the unbalanced approach Congress is taking to fund the government: prioritizing only military spending while slashing job-creating domestic investments and programs that help Americans afford basic necessities. Furthermore, the bill includes poison pill riders—such as building President Trump’s border wall, permanently preventing protection from toxic lead contamination, and eroding clean water protections—that have no place in legislation that must be passed to fund the government.

The minibus abandons American clean energy and jobs in Appalachia

The proposed cuts in the energy and water section of the minibus spending bill threaten the foundation of the American innovation economy—funding at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This bill undermines innovation that comes from ideas thought up in laboratories, the demonstration projects that prove new technologies, and the economic and workforce development programs that encourage thriving new markets and equip workers to enter those markets with the skills they need.

Take, for example, just one of the DOE’s research and development offices: the Advanced Manufacturing Office, which works with the National Laboratories, industry and academic research partners, and manufacturing companies themselves to invent new technologies and improve existing manufacturing processes. The minibus spending bill would cut funding for these initiatives by 60.4 percent—a devastating blow to the experts and user facilities at national laboratories such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and to their university and private sector partners, including small businesses, who collaborate on leading-edge materials science, 3-D printing, and much more. Because the DOE offices, national labs, and their outside partners collaborate across issues, funding cuts to any one of these offices damages them all, the research talent and infrastructure that underpins their work, and the potential of the discoveries they yield.

This minibus bill erodes support for science and energy research that appears in your child’s textbook, heats or cools your home, powers your business, and creates and competes in new markets. It proposes cuts to the basic research that aid our understanding of Earth’s systems, including our climate, and to programs that make electric vehicle batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, and LED light bulbs—to name only a few clean energy technologies—more and more affordable. It also eliminates the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), that applies the same model of research investment by which the Defense Department invented the Internet to new, transformative energy technologies. The bill takes its cues from President Trump’s budget to close the doors of the DOE’s loan programs, which boosted the domestic electric vehicle manufacturing industry, creating over 35,000 jobs in eight states; launched the U.S. market for utility-scale solar power from five DOE-financed projects to 45 privately financed projects; and created 56,000 American jobs since the program’s start in 2005.

Considering the cuts this bill proposes to other agencies, the damage it does broadens beyond the growing clean energy economy to target coal communities where recent economic and workforce development programs have started revitalizing the local and regional economy and offering new opportunities to miners and their families. The House bill proposes a 14.5 percent cut to the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has leveraged its funding in recent years to create or retain 8,600 jobs in the region. These proposed cuts, much like the president’s budget itself, reveal the hollowness of President Trump’s campaign rhetoric supporting coal miners and their communities. For science and energy research, jobs, and workers, the House minibus spending bill follows the cynical and damaging approach of President Trump’s budget proposal.

The minibus is a symptom of a fundamentally flawed budget

The minibus spending bill is part of a budget plan in Congress that would cut nondefense discretionary spending—which includes infrastructure, energy, education, affordable housing, diplomacy, and other vital sectors—below even the levels imposed by sequestration. These sequestration spending caps impose separate limits on defense and nondefense spending, and lawmakers in 2011 designed these caps to be so terrible that they would force Congress to compromise on a “grand bargain” to reduce deficits.

But there was never a grand bargain and sequestration is scheduled to return in FY 2018. Lawmakers have previously struck budget deals that provided equal increases above the sequestration caps for defense and nondefense spending, and that is the same approach that Congress should take this time around.

Instead, the House budget would cut nondefense discretionary spending by $5 billion below the sequestration cap for FY 2018. Due to increases in spending for veterans’ programs, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that the House budget plan would cut other nondefense discretionary programs by $21.6 billion below FY 2017 levels, after adjusting for inflation. And FY 2017 spending already reflects a 13 percent cut from inflation-adjusted FY 2010 levels.

Meanwhile, the House budget would increase defense spending by $72 billion above the sequestration level—compared to the $54 billion increase proposed by President Trump. The House also adds $10 billion on top of the $65 billion that President Trump requested for the military’s Overseas Contingency Operations account, which is exempt from the sequestration caps.

Conclusion

There is no way to fix the House’s minibus spending bill—or any other appropriations—until Congress once again strikes a bipartisan budget deal that eliminates poison pill riders and provides equal increases above the sequestration caps for defense and nondefense programs. While the Trump budget proposed even larger cuts to domestic programs, that extreme proposal should not distract from the fact that the sequestration levels—and certainly anything below them—are far too low to support a budget that creates jobs and helps Americans afford the basics.

The House’s minibus spending bill shows what these budget cuts would mean for clean energy development and job creation in Appalachia. While the House may be able to pass this minibus and other appropriations bills along party lines, bipartisanship will be required to clear the 60-vote hurdle that these bills will face in the Senate. If the House’s minibus has any value, it is to show how important it will be for Congress to strike a bipartisan budget deal that prevents the cuts in the minibus from ever becoming law.

Harry Stein is the director of fiscal policy at the Center for American Progress. Luke H. Bassett is the associate director of domestic energy policy at the Center.