"We’re going to have a say on whether they’re going to get their money or not,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said. | Getty
The simultaneous climate and budget deadlines give the GOP a tool to derail a legacy-defining pact for the President.
Call it the climate cliff.
On Dec. 11, Obama administration diplomats will be in Paris working to clinch a global climate deal that will hinge on whether they can back up a pledge to provide billions of dollars to help poor countries deal with climate change. That same day, Republicans back in Washington will be trying to hold that money hostage with a government shutdown hanging in the balance.
“We want to make sure that any of these countries that think they’re going to have a check to cash because of an agreement that the president may make in Paris — that they shouldn’t cash the check just yet," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said of Republicans' strategy.
Congress must pass a new spending bill by Dec. 11, when a stopgap measure expires. The simultaneous deadlines on each side of the Atlantic Ocean give Republicans a tool to derail a legacy-defining pact for the president and score a rare victory on climate policy. They also significantly raise the stakes in this year's game of shutdown chicken.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told POLITICO that he sees the dueling deadlines as a "coincidence" and notes the Paris negotiations will likely go into overtime, perhaps for as long as two days beyond Dec. 11. He also said he is "confident" that the White House will not stand for any climate-related riders in the spending bill.
With few other tools at their disposal to upend a deal in Paris, Republicans are hoping to add riders to the spending bill to block Environmental Protection Agency rules and to deny any contributions to the Green Climate Fund, a U.N.-maintained account to transfer climate aid to poor nations facing drought, rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change. Developing countries like India have warned that their support for a deal in Paris will depend on industrialized nations making ambitious funding commitments to help them replace coal with renewable energy. President Barack Obama has pledged $3 billion for the fund, including a $500 million request this year, but Republicans have balked at the request.
"We’re going to have a say on whether they’re going to get their money or not,” Barrasso added. “So they shouldn’t be so anxious to come to the table and make commitments because the U.S. dollars are the linchpin of this entire climate conference.”
To bolster their strategy, Barrasso and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who also doubts mainstream climate science, sent Obama a letter Friday warning that "Congress will not be forthcoming" with climate aid unless a Paris deal is submitted to the Senate for ratification. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) is collecting signatures for a similar letter to House Appropriations leaders urging a rejection of the funding unless Congress reviews the deal. In effect, the Republicans are setting up a Catch-22 for the administration, which has worked to keep the Paris deal from being classified as a treaty, knowing it could not win a ratification vote.
Neither House nor Senate appropriators have so far provided any climate aid through the Green Climate Fund. The Senate version of a State Department spending bill contains language authored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and supported by moderate Republican Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine that leaves the door open for Green Climate Fund money. The House version prohibits the funding outright.
Democrats say they will fight to include climate fund money in the omnibus spending bill.
"There are quite a few make-or-break issues in the overall budget bill. This is right up there,” said an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the State Department. "The Republicans need Democrats to make it possible to pass this bill, and this is a very high priority for Democrats."
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the relevant House subcommittee, agreed that flexibility around climate funding is "an important priority for the State Department" and said there is "no question" Democrats would insist on its inclusion in an omnibus.
Both sides are adamant they will get their way.
"Of course, that will remain unfunded on Dec. 11. I'm sure of that," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who introduced legislation to block an EPA climate rule that passed the Senate last week.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee for the State Department, said Republicans may balk if Democrats insist on including the climate aid.
“I don’t know if there’s a line in the sand, but most Republicans will not support that, and I think it would endanger the bill,” Granger said.
But Secretary of State John Kerry suggested the president would be willing to play hardball to protect the money.
“We’ll get there, because the trade-offs of the budget are such that when something is a high-enough priority for a president, you have a way of getting it done, even though it’s opposed by people,” Kerry told the Financial Times earlier this month. “If the president is prepared to veto the budget because it hasn’t included it, you can usually find some money.”
A senior administration official did not directly respond to an inquiry about whether Obama would veto the omnibus if it doesn't include money for the climate fund. But, in an email, the official said, "The omnibus encompasses the entire federal government, so there are many administration priorities that we are monitoring as Congress continues its work on this bill. As we have made clear, the Green Climate Fund is a priority for the President and we are pleased that it enjoys bipartisan support."
While the budget talks continue to take shape, Republicans have begun deploying other aspects of their plan to block a Paris deal, starting with votes to block EPA's carbon regulations for power plants. Using Congressional Review Act disapproval resolutions, which cannot be filibustered, a majority of the Senate last week rejected the Clean Power Plan, which provides the bulk of the emissions cuts Obama has pledged in the global climate negotiations. The House is expected to pass the Congressional Review Act disapproval resolutions after the Paris talks begin Nov. 30, but Obama has already promised to veto them, and Republicans do not have the votes for an override.
The Senate votes also showed Republicans are well short of the 60 votes they would need to prevent Democrats from filibustering appropriations riders aimed at the carbon rules, leading some GOP lawmakers to refocus on efforts to block climate aid ahead of the Paris talks.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), facing his first major test as a party leader, made it clear last week in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that some policy riders would have to be included in an omnibus spending bill. Ryan did not single out particular agencies, but he referenced "a number of regulations being churned out of this administration that we think are killing jobs," a description Republicans apply to most EPA rules.
"I don’t expect all of them to make it all the way through," Capito said of the EPA riders. "But I do believe there will be some on the omnibus.”
Darius Dixon contributed to this report.