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Congress Comes Back to a Heavy Lift

House and Senate Members returned on Tuesday to begin to wrap up the remaining issues before the 114th Congress comes to a close.  They have given themselves about two weeks in which to figure out how to address appropriations for this fiscal year; where and how much funding to provide for the lead in drinking water problems in Flint, MI; and whether to pass a more complex Water Resources Development Act measure that contains drinking water provisions as well as traditional Corps of Engineers work.  There are also decisions to be made on taxes and energy.
The current Continuing Resolution (CR) funds Federal agencies through December 9th.  Most members are at least reluctantly willing to extend a new CR into 2017…but how long into the new year has become the question.  Some want to see March 31st as the end date; some prefer April 28th or sometime in May; while others want to carry the funding forward until September 30th, the end of fiscal year 2017.  Such a move would give them a “clean slate” in which to take up the first appropriations cycle under the Trump Administration.  The House Appropriations Committee is working on a new CR proposal that should be released next week.  It remains to be seen whether the new vehicle will choose the shorter or longer timeframe.
Another issue is how and what to do about funds for Flint, MI.  Many supporters on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers feel strongly that funds should be appropriated to ease the lead in drinking water issue.  The question has become where:  special appropriations in the extended CR or WRDA (Water Resources Development Act) — or both?  While both the House and Senate approved a WRDA bill, the contents and funding levels are significantly different.  Despite ongoing staff negotiations, WRDA’s fate remains undetermined as of this writing.
When House Republicans are not worrying about these and other issues, they are working to determine who will wield the gavel for the Energy & Commerce Committee.  Current Chair, Fred Upton (R-MI), is term-limited and both Greg Walden (R-OR) and John Shimkus (R-IL) are strong contenders.  The House Democrats are also embroiled in battles of their own.  Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been reelected as her party’s leader despite a strong challenge from Tim Ryan (D-OH) who managed to secure about a third of the votes.  This was her first real challenge in years and was grounded in the fact that she has not found gains for Democratic candidates in the last three election cycles and, in fact, has watched Dems lose 60 seats since 2010.
ASDWA will continue to monitor these developments and share them with you as they happen.