This Week in Washington
The House is in session. It will vote to roll back ObamaCare and defund Planned Parenthood. The measure is expected to pass, after which it will be sent to the President who has said he will veto it.
The Senate is in pro forma session this week.
Major Congressional Issues in 2016
Given the coming elections (believe it or not, it's still 11 months away), Senate Republic leader Mitch McConnell will be pushing votes that will help those Republican Senators up for re-election and relegating to next year those votes that might hurt their chances. At issue is control of the Senate, which could go back in the hands of the Democrats. On the House side, it's a continuing a story of long-term incumbent Republicans being challenged in primaries by more conservative Republicans. It will be interesting to watch the moderate speaker Ryan deal with factions of Republicans from the Tea Party to the Trump-ists who seem themselves as purists and far less inclined to compromise.
One issue that should garner bipartisan support is the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). We expect Rep. Shuster, Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to take the lead with a bill that will start moving through his committee in February. Our sources tell us it will likely contain about two dozen authorizations for new water resource projects and several tweaks to provisions of WRRDA 2014 and other non-controversial matters.
Look for an improved Section 7001 Report from the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works next month. Its first appearance last year elicited grumbles and snarls from key congressional interests. They held out hope the report would be more useful to them in deciding what policy and project provisions proposed by non-Federal interests that could be supported in WRDA 2016. Sometimes people forget that the Executive and Legislative branches are separate. Congress can usually achieve a balance in the water resource arena if it can add provisions that some call earmarks. Adding a provision to a bill that only affects one or two projects generally is viewed as an earmark. The Section 7001 Report was supposed to give Congress enough smoke to do things that didn't look like earmarks. Unfortunately, the Administration didn't want to play in that sand box.
Finally, we suspect that environmental regulations (mostly those not yet adopted or implemented) will also be a major battleground in Congress with the Republicans making little progress in battling the Obama Administration's final efforts to use new regulatory controls to get around congressional unwillingness to pass stronger air and water quality legislation.
Tracking Key Water Resources Legislation in Congress
One New Year's Resolution we've already acted on is establishing a database of all congressional legislation that affects water resources, coastal resilience, sea level change, etc. So far, we found 94 bills introduced last year that fit our admittedly subjective standards. In future WaterWise updates, we'll report on their progress as well as follow any new proposals that get introduced. One piece of hard reality: Water resources are not on the radar screen of too many Members of Congress. Members know the projects in their district but the overall picture is elusive to most. Just before Congress took a break for the holidays, it passed a Highway Bill that also covers mass transit and other surface transportation issues but has, until recently, had nothing to do with water transportation. Likewise, Congress regularly passes an aviation bill to keep the nation's air system funded and improve safety. WRRDA 2014 was passed 7 years after WRDA 2007, which in turn was passed 7 years after WRDA 2000. WRDA does not provide funds for any project or study! But it does make projects and studies eligible to seek congressional funding and -- equally important -- it establishes or amends federal water resource policies. With so much of our population and economy at risk of riverine and coastal flooding, 90% of global US trade moving by water, and environmental resources that associated with bodies of water facing a variety of risks, the lack of congressional legislation is a sign at best that water resources are taken for granted; at worst, they are neglected.
You can find our legislative database here. We developed it and will track it using a new online tool that lets users do that and much, much more: GovPredict. You can even find and track bills at the State level, not to mention Federal regulations (see story below) and political contributions.
But Wait.....There's More to Report.
- New WRRDA Guidance
- The Corps Finally Comes Out in the Federal Register
We'll have information about these and more in our next WaterWise update.
If you have any questions, want to add bills to our list, or have a comment, please email firstname.lastname@example.org