Elsewhere on the Hill

Believe it or not, work beyond that related to the government shutdown is continuing to take place in Congress.

FARM BILL:  The Senate passed its bill (S 954) in June.  The House decided to separate purely farm-related aspects (HR 2642) from those related to the food assistance (SNAP) program (HR 3102).  Both measures have passed and have now been “connected” by a special House rule and sent jointly to the Senate in anticipation of establishing a joint conference committee to resolve differences between House and Senate versions.  On Tuesday, the Senate formally reappointed 12 members – 7 Democrats and 5 Republicans – as their designated conferees.  The House is expected to name its conferees within the next week or so.

Both House and Senate bills include funding for programs of interest to state drinking water programs.  Among them are a new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program that consolidates the current Wetlands Reserve Program with others to “restore, protect, and enhance wetlands.”; a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program that includes the former Chesapeake Bay Watershed and Great Lakes Basin programs to “further conservation and sustainable use of soil, water, air, and wildlife” and to avoid the need for regulatory requirements; the existing grassroots source water protection and small watershed rehabilitation programs; water and wastewater facility grants and circuit rider programs; emergency and imminent community water assistance grants; grants for household wells and rural water and wastewater infrastructure.

Although bill passage and naming of conferees sounds like progress, it still remains to be seen whether the two chambers can come to agreement, particularly over the SNAP provisions.  There is some speculation that, in the end, conferees may prefer to agree to a two-year extension of the current law rather than try to resolve their more contentious issues.

DROUGHT:  Although the October 1st hearing by the House Science Subcommittee on Environment was cancelled, interest remains strong in enhancing and reauthorizing the 2006 National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act (HR 2431) that supports the U.S. Drought Portal where decisionmakers can find information about emerging and potential droughts as well as strategies for drought management.  The bill reauthorizes funding for the drought information system through 2018 at $13.5 million per year.  The Senate Commerce Committee has already passed its companion legislation (S 376) where it now awaits floor action.


CYBER SECURITY:  While the full committee markup has been postponed, the House Homeland Security Committee plans to pass two cyber-related bills — HR 3107, the Cyber Security Boots-on-the-Ground Act, to identify gaps and develop strategies to address them in the cyber workforce arena and HR 2952, the Critical Infrastructure Research & Development Advancement Act, that calls for development of a strategic plan to guide Federal physical and cyber security technology R&D; fosters collaboration with Sector Coordination Councils to identify technology risks and gaps; and creates a technology clearinghouse.