Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of May 31, 2016
  
Congressional Outlook

Week of May 31st
 
The House and Senate are both in recess this week for Memorial Day. When the House and Senate return in June, leaders from the two chambers will likely meet in a House-Senate conference committee to consider (1) the Senate-passed FY 2017 Transportation-HUD/Military Construction-VA "minibus" Appropriations bill (H.R. 2577), which includes $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus; (2) the House-passed "Zika Response Appropriations Act, 2016" (H.R. 5243), which provides $622.1 million to fight the Zika virus; and (3) the House-passed "Zika Vector Control Act" (H.R. 897), which would exempt pesticide spraying near bodies of water from regulation under an existing EPA general Clean Water Act permit through September 30, 2018. The Obama Administration has requested $1.9 billion in emergency supplemental funding to combat the Zika virus, far more funding than both the House and Senate have proposed thus far. The Senate will resume consideration of the $602 billion FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943) and, on June 6, will vote on an amendment introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) regarding reforms to the military healthcare system. The Senate will also consider the House-passed "Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act" (H.R. 2576), which would reauthorize the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and expand the EPA's power to regulate chemicals and substances that are used to make consumer products.
 
The House GOP conference will meet in June to examine options for resuming the appropriations process, and that could include changing the rules for considering floor amendments. On May 24, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) laid out plans to require that members submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are printed in the Congressional Record. Ryan's new requirement will add more predictability to the appropriations process in the House. GOP leaders will, for instance, be able to more easily schedule votes if they know how many amendments to expect. It will also allow the public to know ahead of time what proposals lawmakers plan to offer to appropriations bills. Details of amendments to such measures often haven't been made available until the House is in the middle of debating them.
   
The House could also vote on bipartisan legislation to address Puerto Rico's debt crisis in June, though the measure's future in the Senate is less certain. On May 25, the House Natural Resources Committee passed, by a vote of 29-10-1, the "Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act" (H.R. 5278), which provides Puerto Rico with potential access to debt restructuring overseen by a district court and driven by an Oversight Board acting in place of the debtor.
Week in Review

House Fails to Pass FY 2017 Energy & Water Development Appropriations Bill
 
The House rejected, by a vote of 112-305, their $37.44 billion FY 2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill ( H.R. 5055) after two days of debate that had seemingly put it on a path to final passage. 130 House Republicans joined 175 House Democrats in opposing the bill on very different grounds. Conservative Republicans were frustrated over a provision in the bill that barred discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers by federal contractors, while Democrats were opposed to the bill's funding levels for various programs at the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), and the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), as well as several contentious policy riders, such as one barring implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) and the Corps' "waters of the US" (WOTUS) final Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdictional rule. House GOP leaders must now find a way to keep the legislation alive when Congress returns next week, or risk not passing any FY 2017 appropriations bills under "regular order", leading to a continuing resolution (CR) by September 30 and a spending omnibus bill during the lame duck session this fall. The House considered 57 amendments to the bill, approving 34 amendments and rejecting 23 amendments, including rejecting, by a vote of 169-247, an amendment introduced by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) which would have stricken the section of the bill related to California water policy. The White House also threatened to veto the bill. Read more...
House Passes Comprehensive Energy Bill
 
On May 25, the House passed, by a vote of 241-178, an amended version of the "Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016" ( S. 2012). The House Amendment that was attached to the Senate-passed energy bill is a compilation of 36 bills previously passed by the House, many of which contain controversial provisions that House Democrats have voted to oppose and which the White House has indicated would cause the President to veto them. Among the 36 bills, the House Amendment contains the text of a controversial bill aimed at addressing the California water crisis,the "Western Water and American Food Security Act" ( H.R. 2898). That bill would modify rules governing water rights and use, endangered species management, and water infrastructure projects in order to facilitate increased storage and availability. While the bill primarily deals with California water use and species management to address a severe multiyear drought in the state, it also would provide additional oversight authority to the Interior Department's Bureau of Reclamation to accelerate the review and approval process of Western water projects. Specifically, the bill would designate the Bureau of Reclamation as the lead agency for the purpose of approving surface water storage projects; limit the amount of time and money that can be spent on a water project review; allow local water districts and local governments to repay construction costs early; and require the completion of a number of project feasibility studies to ensure their eligibility for funding under a California referendum. The bill would modify the criteria used when evaluating the health of the delta smelt and other salmonid species in California. It also would bar the federal government from making federal permits or other approvals contingent on the transfer of water rights
 
The House Amendment also contains the text of several additional controversial bills and provisions of bills, including the "National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015" (H.R. 1937), which would reduce or eliminate environmental reviews, and give mining companies control over the timing of permitting decisions, for virtually all types of mining operations on federal public land, not just those involving strategic or critical minerals, the "Native American Energy Act" (H.R. 538), the "Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act of 2015 (H.R. 2406), and the "Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015" (H.R. 2647). In addition, the House Amendment includes provisions from the "North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015" (H.R. 8), a sweeping bill to boost U.S. energy production, lift a four-decade ban on crude oil exports and modernize the aging electric grid. The House can now vote to formally enter a conference with the Senate. In that process, members of both parties from both chambers would be tasked with reconciling differences between the House's package and the wide-ranging energy bill the Senate passed in April. Read more...
House Passes Chemicals Safety Overhaul Bill
 
On May 24, the House passed, by a vote of 403-12, the "Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act" (H.R. 2576), which would reauthorize the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and expand the EPA's power to regulate chemicals and substances that are used to make consumer products. The House Amendment to the bill would: (1) require the EPA to evaluate new and existing chemicals against a new risk-based safety standard that includes explicit considerations for vulnerable populations, such as children, pregnant women and the elderly; (2) empower the EPA to require the development of chemical information necessary to support new regulations and requirements for their use; (3) establish clear and enforceable deadlines that help to ensure a review of prioritized chemicals and timely action on any risks; (4) increase the public transparency of chemical information by limiting unwarranted claims of industry confidentiality which would allow necessary sharing of confidential information with States and health environmental professionals; and (5) authorize the collection of additional fees from industry to fund the EPA to carry out its additional requirements and responsibilities. The Senate will likely pass the bill when it returns on June 6. The White House stated that it "strongly supports the bipartisan, bicameral efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act [and] the bill is a clear improvement over the current TSCA and represents a historic advancement for both chemical safety and environmental law." Read more...
WRDA Quickly Approved by House T&I Committee
 
The House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee last week easily approved, by voice vote, its version of the 2016 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The $5 billion House package ( H.R. 5303) is much smaller than the Senate version ( S. 2848), mostly focusing on approving Corps-recommended projects to move forward in planning, design and construction. The House bill would authorize construction on 28 Army Corps projects around the country while taking about $5 billion in existing projects off budget (de-authorization). The Senate bill is much broader, containing additional funding authorities to tackle clean water and drinking water related projects and policies (partially due to the Flint, MI, lead-tainted water crisis). The House T&I Committee lacks jurisdiction over drinking water (the House Energy and Commerce Committee retains jurisdiction over federal drinking water laws). Members of the Committee introduced but quickly withdrew more than a dozen amendments during the House panel markup, including two dealing with lead in drinking water and infrastructure repairs (ruled out of order due to lack of Committee jurisdiction). But the following amendments did pass the Committee by voice vote:
  • A manager's amendment by House T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) to require that the Corps complete a report by next year on the use of natural and nature-based features in projects, among other provisions.
  • An amendment from Rep. Don Young (R-AK) to begin the initial process for constructing a deep dredge port in Alaska.
  • An amendment from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) to boost collaboration with countries like Israel on desalination.
  • An amendment from Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) to compel the Corps to study flood risks for vulnerable populations within the Corps' South Atlantic Division.
  • An amendment from Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) to direct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate alternative models for managing the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and for overseeing the project schedules for inland waterways projects.
  • An amendment from Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) to direct the Corps to look at alternatives for assuming the maintenance costs for dredging.
  • An amendment from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) to allow the Corps to work with other entities to expand fish hatcheries, a move that could help the agency comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for threatened fish species.
  • An amendment from Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) to direct the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to write regulations to manage and certify environmental mitigation banks, entities that help offset the environmental damage caused by construction and other activities along the coast.
House and Senate Appropriations Committees Mark Up FY 2017 Bills
 
On May 24, the full House Appropriations Committee marked up and passed its FY 2017 Transportation-HUD and Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bills. The Transportation-HUD bill provides $58.2 billion in discretionary spending  while the Commerce-Justice-Science bill provides $56 billion in discretionary spending. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior-Environment and Financial Services-General Government also passed their respective FY 2017 Appropriations bills by voice vote on May 25. The Interior-Environment bill provides $32.095 billion while the Financial Services-General Government bill provides $21.7 billion in funding. These two bills will likely be marked up by the full House Appropriations Committee during the week of June 6.
 
On May 26, the full Senate Appropriations Committee marked up and unanimously passed its FY 2017 Homeland Security and Defense Appropriations bills. The Homeland Security bill provides $48.07 billion in discretionary spending, while the Defense bill provides $515.9 billion in base DoD funding and $58.6 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.  
Senate Votes to Block Obama Administration Financial Adviser Rule
 
On May 24, the Senate passed, by a vote of 56-41, a disapproval resolution ( H.J.Res.88) to overturn the Labor Department's fiduciary duty rule, which requires financial advisers to act in the best interest of retirement savers.  Republicans were able to clear the joint resolution through the Senate, despite not having 60 votes, by using the Congressional Review Act. The law gives lawmakers 60 days to pass a resolution with a simple majority, though it still has to signed by the President in order for a regulation to be blocked. Senate Republicans argue that the Labor Department's fiduciary rule hurts the middle class by limiting access to financial advice, calling it another example of regulatory overreach by the Obama Administration. However, the White House has already threatened to veto H.J.Res.88 because " the bill would overturn an important Department of Labor final rule critical to protecting Americans' hard-earned savings and preserving their retirement security." The House previously passed the resolution on April 28 by a vote of 234-183. Read more...
 
Congressional Schedule

There are no scheduled hearings this week as the House and Senate are in recess.