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In Absence of Budget Agreement, Spending Bills Gather Steam

The House Committee on Budget continues to seek agreement on an overall budget blueprint that balances the competing demands of conservatives that want significant budget cuts and moderates that want to limit program reductions.  As a result, the deadline to vote on a budget setting overall spending levels for domestic and military spending remains a moving target.

In the absence of a budget agreement, the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations have moved forward on individual agency spending bills.  Action has centered on the House where markups and approval of spending bills commenced this week, setting the stage for House floor votes on all twelve appropriation bills.  House Republican leadership is considering combining the bills into one enormous spending package and seeking a vote prior to the August recess.  According to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), discussions are ongoing as how best to proceed on an approach that will secure enough Republican votes to pass the spending package. However, such a massive spending package is unlikely to secure Senate passage, if it it even makes it through the House.

Overall, the committee deliberations on the various spending bills have been consistent in rejecting the Administration’s budget cut recommendations that included up to 30% reductions in agency budgets and in total amounted to $60 billion across the domestic budget.  Instead, the committee settled on budgetary “haircuts” of single digit cuts for most agencies.  However, these cuts tend to be concentrated in select programs, magnifying the impact of the reductions.  Below is a selected summary of the spending decisions made so far.

Energy and Water and Related Agencies:  Provides $37.56 billion in discretionary funding, which is $209 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $3.65 billion above the President’s budget request.

  • $6.157 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, $120 million above fiscal year 2017, of which $1.34 billion is for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund
  • Provides $1.24 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation, $79 million below fiscal year 2017, of which $10 million is for the Bureau’s WaterSmart grant program and $83 million for the second year of funding for water storage, desalination, and water recycling and reuse projects authorized in the WIIN Act
  • Does not include additional funding for the Western Drought Response (Bureau)
  • Includes language authorizing the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Secretary of the Army to withdraw the Waters of the United States rule.
  • $29.8 billion for the Department of Energy, which is $857 million below fiscal year 2017

Interior, Environment and Related Agencies: Provides $7.5 billion for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, $528 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level, of which:

  • $1.1 billion for the Clean Water SRF, $200 million below fiscal year 2017
  • $863 million for the Drinking Water SRF
  • $25 million to fund the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, an increase of $20 million
  • Language that authorizes USEPA and USACE to avoid complying with the Administrative Procedures Act in order to expedite rescinding the Clean Water Rule.
  • $3.4 billion for Wildland Firefighting and Prevention programs, which fully funds the 10-year average for wildland fire suppression costs for both the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service
  • $397 million for regional watershed programs (Great Lakes Restoration Chesapeake Bay Initiative)
  • $465 million for the Payments In Lieu of Taxes program that supports rural communities

Transportation, Housing and Urban Development:  $56.5 billion in discretionary funds, compared with $57.6 billion in fiscal 2017.

  • Provides $17.8 billion for transportation programs and $38.3 billion for housing programs
  • Eliminates funding for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, the program received $500 million in fiscal 2017
  • Capital Investment Grants reduced by $660 million
  • Community Development Block Grants reduced by $100 million

Senate Committee Hearing Next Week on Nominees – U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner

On July 20, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a nomination hearing on Brenda Burman to be U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner.  Burman currently serves as the Director of Water Policy for Arizona’s Salt River Project. Prior to that, she worked for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, The Nature Conservancy, and former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ).

The committee will also review the nomination of Susan Combs to be an Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Policy, Management and Budget. Combs is a former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and Comptroller.

Senate to Shorten August Recess

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), this week announced the cancellation of the Senate’s first two weeks of the August recess.  McConnell stated he plans to use the additional time to pass the fiscal year 2018 Defense Department authorization bill and to clear the backlog of presidential nominations during that period.  House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced that the House has no plans to stay in session for the August recess at this time.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, seized on the new schedule, and announced the Senate should take up S. 1460, the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017.  This bipartisan legislation includes provisions addressing energy efficiency, energy infrastructure, supply, accountability, conservation, federal land management, National Park System management, and Indian energy issues and programs.  Majority Leader McConnell has not indicated if the Senate will bring the energy bill to the floor prior to the August recess.

Letter from 350 national, statewide and local groups in opposition to S. 1460

Safe Drinking Water Act Reauthorization Legislation Moves in the House

On July 13, the House Committee on Energy, Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy marked-up H.R.____, the Drinking Water System Improvement Act of 2017.  (Amendments) The measure is expected to move to the full committee prior to the August recess.  Key provisions of the legislation:

  • Reauthorizes the DWSRF providing a total of $8 billion in capitalization grants for FY 2018 through FY 2022. Specifically, it authorizes $1.2 billion in FY 2018, $1.4 billion in FY 2019, $1.6 billion in FY 2020, $1.8 billion in FY 2021, and $2 billion in FY 2022.
  • Allows the use of those funds for siting, associated preconstruction activities, and replacing or rehabilitating aging treatment, storage, or distribution facilities of public water systems.
  • Extends the application of the American iron and steel requirements in section 1452(a)(4) to DWSRF funds for the life of the funding authorization in the bill.
  • Requires public water systems serving more than 10,000 persons to certify to their State that they have considered the costs and effectiveness of the relevant processes, materials, techniques, and technologies used in the project or activity supported with DWSRF funds.
  • Increases the amount of loan subsidies available for disadvantaged communities to 35 percent and extends the repayment schedule for DWSRF loans for disadvantaged communities from 30 years to 40 years.
  • Allows States to use a portion of their DWSRF allocation to delineate, assess, and update their source water protection plans.
  • Reauthorizes, at $5,000,000 per year, the authorization of appropriations in SDWA section 1454(e) for the source water protection program. FY 2018 through FY 2022
  • Amends section 1443 of the SDWA to reauthorize funding for Public Water System Supervision grants at $150,000,000 for FY 2018 through FY 2022

Congressman Withdraws Attempt to Fight D.C. Wipes Law

Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) offered and then withdrew an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 Financial Services spending bill to eliminate a Washington D.C. mandate on the labelling of the use of pre-moistened wet wipes in the District.  The law, starting in 2019, requires companies that make wet wipes sold in the District to prove that the wipes will not harm the sewer system and are labelled informing communities not to dispose of the wipes through the toilet flushing. According to committee staff, Harris did not indicate if he would offer the amendment on the House floor.

USEPA Nominee Moves to Senate Floor

On July 13, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (SEPW) approved the nomination of Susan Parker Bodine to be USEPA’s Assistant Administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. The vote was along party lines (11-10).  With the Senate scheduled to be in session until mid-August, the nomination may be voted on prior to the recess.

Bodine currently serves as Chief Counsel for SEPW.  Previously, she served as the Assistant Administrator for USEPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response in President George W. Bush’s Administration.  Bodine served a Staff Director of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Next Week in Congress

July 17

House Committee on Appropriations – Full committee markup of the fiscal 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill

July 18

House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on Examining Impacts of Federal Natural Resources Laws Gone Astray, Part II

July 19

House Committee on Agriculture hearing on The State of Infrastructure in Rural America

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing on Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Implementation of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 and the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 

July 20

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – Nomination hearing on Brenda Burman to be U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner

Senate Committee on Appropriations – Markup of the FY18 Energy & Water Development, and FY18 Agriculture Appropriations Bills