Outlook: "Snowzilla" Sidelines House, Delays Senate

The Senate is set to take up an energy bill a day later than planned, while the House will stay home for the week.

Washington is digging out after a mammoth blizzard with hurricane-force winds and record-setting snowfall brought much of the East Coast to an icy standstill. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The “Snowzilla” storm has wreaked havoc on the congressional schedule, as the House has scrapped its entire session for the week—essentially creating an unplanned recess—while the Senate has pushed its own plans back a day.

Instead of starting its work Tuesday, as originally scheduled, the Senate will vote Wednesday night on the nomination of John Michael Vazquez for a U.S. District Court judgeship. Then the Senate is set to dive back into the high-intensity energy debate with expected floor consideration of a bipartisan energy bill, covering issues such as energy efficiency, infrastructure modernization, and critical-minerals mining.

But it’s unclear whether cooperation on energy that marked the end of 2015, when Congress and the White House struck a deal on allowing crude-oil exports while extending green-electricity tax breaks, will carry over into the new year.

The bill arrives on the floor with support across party lines. Last year, it cleared the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a bipartisan 18-4 vote, but the floor debate could get tricky (a similar House bill lost its Democratic cooperation on its path to passage). Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised an open amendment process, which means the bill could see debates over tough issues like climate change, fossil fuel development and the Obama administration’s decision to put the brakes on new coal leases on federal lands.

Already, GOP Sen. John Barrasso, a member of the Republican leadership team, has signaled that he wants a floor battle over President Obama’s coal-leasing moratorium. And Heritage Action, a prominent conservative political group, came out swinging against the bill Friday. The group says provisions on energy-efficiency job training, electric vehicles, and other measures are inappropriate, taxpayer-backed intrusions into energy markets.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the chairwoman of the Energy Committee, made the case for the bill when she gave the GOP’s weekly address released Saturday. She touted provisions to expedite liquefied-natural-gas exports, promote hydropower, overhaul the Energy Department’s controversial loan programs, and more.

“It will help America produce more energy. It will help Americans pay less for energy. And it will firmly establish America as a global energy superpower,” she said.


On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will tackle another hot-button issue—heroin and prescription-drug abuse. It’s one that’s cropped up quite often on the campaign trail, as several candidates, such as Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush, have talked openly and intimately about their children’s struggles with addiction. (A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on mental health legislation that had been slated for Tuesday has been postponed.)


Obama won’t stray far from the White House this week while Washington digs out from the weekend’s massive snowstorm. He’ll be indoors until Wednesday when he goes to a ceremony at the Israeli Embassy for a ceremony presenting the prestigious “Righteous Among the Nations” award. On Thursday, he is scheduled to go to Baltimore to address House Democrats at their annual Issues Conference.

This article has been updated.

Rachel Roubein and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article