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December Congressional Update: WRDA, FY21 Funding, COVID-Relief, and NDAA

There are several year-end priorities for Congress as deadlines near including funding the government past Friday, December 11th. The House has approved several of those priorities, including the annual defense policy bill (NDAA), a broad water infrastructure package (WRDA), and a stopgap funding bill to give lawmakers more time to negotiate fiscal 2021 funding and a relief package to battle the coronavirus pandemic. Senate action is expected to follow.

WRDA

On Tuesday, the House passed a broad, bipartisan water infrastructure package that focuses on Army Corps of Engineers projects. The 2020 Water Resources Development Act does not include any sections on drinking water and clean water. If the legislation passes the Senate, it will be the third WRDA measure to be enacted using the process established by the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act. The changes in that law were intended to drive the consideration of water infrastructure legislation every two years. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approved two water related bills in May effectively separating WRDA from drinking water and clean water issues: the America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S. 3591) for the Army Corps and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act (S. 3590) for drinking water issues. No further action has been taken on the Senate DWIA and the House did not craft their own drinking water and clean water act.

FY21 Funding and COVID Relief

Lawmakers are settling for another short-term continuing resolution to allow more time to reach agreement on a fiscal 2021 omnibus. On Wednesday, the House passed a temporary spending bill extending current federal funding levels through Dec. 18, setting up lawmakers for another week to reach agreement on a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package. The bill now heads to the Senate, which should approve it this week. President Trump has indicated he would sign the bill into law before current funding runs out on December 11th.

Leaders in both parties are interested in passing COVID-19 relief before recessing for the year and they plan to attach the relief legislation to the omnibus funding package. Negotiations on the package have slowed this week. The major sticking points are McConnell’s push for a liability shield for employers facing coronavirus-related lawsuits which congressional Democrats are against, and Pelosi’s push for a significant amount of state and local government aid that’s not supported by many Republicans in either chamber.

NDAA and PFAS

The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, considered must-pass legislation, once again attempts to address some military-related PFAS issues, as detailed in the conference report. The Department of Defense would have to notify Congress within 48 hours of the use or release of AFFF, the PFAS-containing fire fighting foam, at any military base which has to be phased out as apart of last year’s NDAA requirements. Additionally, beginning on April 1, 2023 it would be illegal for DOD to procure items, containing PFOA or PFOS, including cookware and furniture.

The legislation overwhelmingly passed the House this week and the Senate is expected to approve the bill today. This is despite veto threats from Trump, who has demanded the legislation abolish a law that protects technology companies from liability over user-generated content. President Trump also opposes a provision included in the bill to rename military bases named for Confederate generals.