Monday, December 8, 2014

Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For

U.S. Senate Chamber
There is currently one U.S. House committee hearing and no Senate committee activity scheduled for the week that relates to Mississippi River Basin water resources. Lawmakers, by-and-large, are looking to clear major pieces of legislation ahead of the winter recess scheduled to begin on Friday, when the 113th Congress will effectively be no more (barring the remote need to remain in town to pass a spending bill and prevent a government shutdown). The main piece of pressing legislative business remains passage of a measure to fund the federal government beyond Thursday, when the current spending authorization lapses. No details of the pending spending legislation have been released yet (House leaders plan to reveal the language today some time). Spending bill amendments (or “riders”) that impact environmental programs remain a possibility (see more on this below).

In addition to the spending measure, there will be some other floor activity in each chamber that relates to the River Basin natural resources or to those in the nation as a whole. Those are listed immediately below, along with relevant committee activity for the week. Further below is an overview of the spending bill negotiations and how environmental riders may or may not be coming into play, for those who want those details. This page will be updated as needed.

Non-spending Congressional Floor and Committee Activity 
  • On Tuesday evening, December 9, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the confirmations of Virginia Tyler Lodge and Ronald Anderson Walter to be members of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority, each for a term expiring May 18, 2019. 
  • The House Oversight Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements will hold a Wednesday hearing on EPA's management of the renewable fuel standard (9:30 AM EST, in room 2154 Rayburn House Office Building). That hearing will be streamed live at the link included above. 
  • At some point during the week, the Senate will likely vote on a bill ("Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014") reauthorizing the U.S. Coast Guard for 2015. The measure was passed by the House last week, and sent on to the Senate for likely passage there. 
Spending Bill
Last week GOP House leaders were effective in advancing the concept of a "cromnibus" spending bill: a hybrid of a long-term omnibus spending measure and a shorter-term continuing resolution (or "CR"). The omnibus portion of the bill would fund most of the federal government from December 11 through the end of the current (2015) fiscal year, which ends next September 30. The omnibus portion of the bill is expected to combine compromise versions of most appropriations bills already drafted by Senate and House appropriations subcommittees (i.e., such as the Interior and Environment bill funding the U.S. EPA and Interior Department, and the Energy and Water Development bill funding the Army Corps of Engineers).

Legislative language won’t be released until later today, so details are lacking. However, Senate and House appropriators indicate that environmental and energy agencies would largely escape unscathed by the impact of "riders" (or amendments) attached to the year-end spending bill. GOP members in particular sought to attach riders to bills in the past that would block implementation of various U.S. EPA, Army Corps and Interior Department rules. Just before Thanksgiving, 91 House members (all but one Republican) sent a letter to House appropriations leaders asking that the spending bill include a provision from the House-passed Energy and Water Development funding bill that would block implementation of the Obama Administration so-called "Waters of the U.S." rule (the corresponding Senate draft was written rider-free). House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said last Tuesday, "I don't think most of the riders are going to be included."

Only one federal agency - the Department of Homeland Security - would be excluded from the longer-term portion of the overall spending bill. Homeland Security (as discussions currently stand) would only be funded via a CR into sometime in February or March, when Republicans will control both the House and Senate, and arguably be in a better position to block implementation of President Obama's immigration executive order. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last Thursday he anticipates that some House Democrats will join with Republicans to pass the trillion-dollar spending package. Some Tea Party conservative Republicans continue to resist backing the bill.

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