As Congress rushes to complete its work for the year, Capitol Hill is locked up with negotiations over a final spending bill and legislation to renew a host of tax credits and subsidies.
The spending bill will authorize government programs and operations through next year. Work to renew a package of expiring tax credits, called “tax extenders,” will likely keep alive a host of tax loopholes for the next two years.
One provision in the “tax extenders” legislative is receiving particular attention in the Hill. The Production Tax Credit is a federal tax subsidy for renewable energy, primarily wind power. The credit provides wind power produces with a subsidy of 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour of power. Last year, the credit provided wind power companies with $6.4 billion in federal subsidies.
The wind power subsidy was originally passed in 1992 as a “temporary” measure intended to jump-start the market for renewable energy. After more than 20 years, this “temporary” credit has been extended 6 times. In a few cases where the subsidy has expired, Congress has reauthorized it retroactively.
The Union for Concerned Scientists, a left-wing activist group, notes that every time the subsidy expires, wind power production collapses. Of course, they view this as an argument to continue the subsidy permanently. More rational people may view this as evidence that, even after more than two decades of support, there is still no market for wind power absent government subsidies.
The economic vitality of a national program for wind power is simply a lot of hot air.
The credit looks set to be resurrected again through a deal with Republicans to lift a four-decade ban on exporting oil from the U.S. Oil companies are currently prohibited from selling American oil to overseas markets. Removing the ban has been a long-standing goal of many Republican lawmakers. With the price of crude oil dipping below $40 a barrel, though, it isn’t at all clear how much of an economic boost oil exports can provide.
Still, it looks like the ban will be lifted, in exchange for extending the wind power subsidy for at least two more years.
Meanwhile, while these negotiations dominate discussions behind closed doors, action on higher-profile measures like curtailing the Syrian refugee program or tightening visa requirements has stalled. President Obama has said he will veto any government spending bill that restricts his plans to bring at least 10,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq into the US.
If Obama were to veto the final spending bill the government would face a partial shutdown. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that Republicans “will not allow the government to not be funded,” making it very unlikely that language to curtail the refugee program will make it into the final omnibus spending bill.
The House separately passed legislation this week to impose modest restrictions on a visa-waiver program affecting immigrants and travelers from 38 countries. Travelers from these, mostly European or developed, countries can enter the US without a visa under current law. The House passed measure would require that travelers from these countries would have to now obtain a visa, if they had traveled to Iraq, Syria, Iran or the Sudan within the last four years.
Unsurprisingly, this very modest restriction passed the House with more than 400 votes. It is possible that this language makes its way into the final spending bill, especially because it would apply in so very few cases.
No other restriction, reform or additional screening of the nation’s refugee or immigrant system is likely to make it into Congress’ final efforts. Obama’s program to resettle Syrian refugees will be fully funded as will his deferments of actions on illegal immigration. There is also likely to be no additional action or funding to secure the border or clamp down on visitors with expired visas.
Perhaps if Republicans tied the fate of these measures to the wind power subsidy Congress would work up the stomach to act.