Moving into the month of February, the Biden Administration continued executive action relating to energy policy, with BOEM and BLM issuing directives to indefinitely postpone lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and four Western states: Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Additionally, President Joe Biden has begun filling nearly 4,000 politically appointed positions in the executive branch and independent agencies, including more than 1,250 that require Senate confirmation. While the majority of any President’s nominations are usually processed in a bipartisan manner with little fanfare, each Administration brings nominees to the table that are controversial and unpalatable to the other party, and this one is no different. Neera Tanden (OMB), Deb Haaland (DOI), and Xavier Becerra (HHS) are three picks so far that have emerged as major points of conflict in the 50-50 Senate, and it may ultimately be incumbent on the Administration to offer alternative nominees for these positions should opposition prevent their confirmations from proceeding. This stands in contrast to picks like Tom Vilsack (Dept. of Agriculture) and Jennifer Granhom (DOE), who have received bipartisan support and look to be set for confirmation.
The House’s main priority as of late has been haggling over a budget resolution for President Biden’s proposed next-step in COVID-19 relief; the $1.9 trillion Rescue America Plan. The plan would give about $1 trillion in direct payments, about $400 billion related to school openings, vaccines and testing, and about $450 billion to local and state governments. Having secured a budget resolution, the House will soon vote on the measure. Additional legislative items the House is working on include H.R.803, a large public lands package aimed at increased environmental protections, and rolling out messaging legislation on both sides of the aisle in the new congress. IADC recently put its support behind new bipartisan legislation, the More Energy More Jobs Act of 2021, which would mandate two offshore lease sales per year in the GoM, as well as give Governors authority to nominate certain state lands for inclusion in federal leasing programs.
The Senate has been occupied with hearings and votes on the President’s nominees, and is beginning to consider COVID-19 relief. OMB nominee Neera Tanden, HHS nominee Xavier Becerra, and DOI nominee Deb Haaland are proving the most controversial of the picks so far. As far as COVID-19 releif, a key procedural item that is currently being addressed is the Senate Parliamentarian’s Byrd Rule analysis of the relief package; Democrats want provisions including a minimum wage hike, but the Parliamentarian must rule that such provisions fall within the scope of reconciliation. If not, such measures will need to be removed from the Senate’s version of the package before consideration.