Congress heads for exits after passing CR

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2016

Congress passed a stopgap spending bill late last night that averts a government shutdown and sets the stage for lawmakers to hash out a final fiscal 2017 spending package in a post-election, lame-duck session.

The House cleared the continuing resolution 342-85 several hours after it easily passed the Senate 72-16. The White House said the president will sign the legislation.

Many members from both chambers left Washington, D.C., to campaign ahead of the November elections after wrapping up CR work yesterday. Congress is not due back until the week of Nov. 14.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the CR was “not perfect,” but he called it the “best-case scenario” compared to a shutdown. Rogers said his goal was to provide fresh dollars for all federal agencies in the lame duck.

The annual appropriations bills are likely to be packaged in either a single year-end omnibus or moved in three or four packages known as minibuses. Conservatives prefer the latter as a way to prevent some grand bargain.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, said Democrats would insist on dealing with all the remaining spending bills in a single package to ensure they have leverage to guarantee new dollars for domestic agencies.

Lowey said moving them piecemeal could allow Republicans to move minibuses offering fresh funds for Defense and other favored agencies while downplaying many domestic priorities.

Congress needed to pass a CR because it failed to approve any of the 12 spending bills. Without those in place, most federal agencies would have been forced to shut down when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

The CR funds nearly all of the government at current fiscal 2016 spending levels through Dec. 9. It provides fresh funding for military construction and veterans affairs programs, and $1.1 billion for fighting the Zika virus and $500 million in flood aid for states, like Louisiana, hit hard by recent storms.

The final bill dropped several controversial provisions that had held up talks in recent weeks, including one to temporarily waive EPA rules for spraying mosquito pesticides to better fight Zika. Environmental groups argued it was an unnecessary regulatory rollback of protections in the Clean War Act.

Some Republicans warned that critics were putting environmental concerns ahead of the public health. “I don’t care about the future downstream effects on mosquitoes. I want them all to die,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas).

Also dropped from the bill was a provision that would have allowed the Export-Import Bank to resume full operations. A Senate standoff over bank nominees currently prevents the trade-stimulating institution from approving deals larger than $10 million. Lowey said the Export-Import Bank would be handled in the lame duck.

Funding for Flint, Mich., had been a major obstacle to moving the CR, but lawmakers resolved the impasse earlier in the day when the House added $170 million to address the city’s lead drinking water crisis.

The stopgap also contains funding anomalies, which make minor adjustments in agency spending through Dec. 9. Among them are an additional $3 million for U.S. EPA to begin implementing the recently updated Toxic Substances Control Act and $26 million for the Bureau of Land Management to cover a dip in drilling fees caused by low oil prices.