Senate’s stopgap talks near finish line; Zika rider likely dropped

Source: George Cahlink and Geof Koss, E&E reporters • Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A controversial policy rider to temporarily waive pesticide spraying requirements is not expected to be part of a deal on stopgap spending legislation that’s due out in the coming days.

The Senate last evening voted, 89-7, to go ahead with calling up the legislative vehicle, H.R. 5325, that will carry the stopgap. The move buys leaders more time for talks because, under the chamber’s rules, the shell cannot be amended for at least a day with the text of a continuing resolution.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday members were “close” to a CR deal that would keep government running for about 10 weeks, through Dec. 9. Without an agreement in place, much of government would be forced to shut down in less than two weeks, when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1

A Senate aide said negotiators had dropped a rider sought by Republicans to waive U.S. EPA permitting for mosquito spraying for up to six months. The GOP had pressed for the waiver to help fight the Zika virus, but Democrats worried it would lead to permanently rolling back Clean Water Act mandates.

Issues, however, remain over possible policy riders, funding for water contamination in Flint, Mich., and communities hit hard by recent flooding, lawmakers from both parties said.

As a result, McConnell said it was “safe to assume” the chamber would be in session next week before leaving for the elections. He plans to complete the CR, try to override President Obama’s veto of legislation to allow families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia and consider a resolution disapproving of arms sales to that country.

“As soon as we can reach an agreement [on a CR], then everybody will have a copy of it,” McConnell added.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) poked at the GOP over the delay and insisted they would not get add-on riders.

“We are not going to have, and the president supports us on this, we’re not going to have a CR loaded with riders. One is too many. And that’s what they’re trying to do,” said Reid.

Despite the slow pace of talks, lawmakers from both parties say there is no appetite for a government shutdown. Both sides say the CR will buy time for Congress to wrap up its spending work in a post-election, lame-duck session, likely with an omnibus funding bill.

Senators said they expected the CR to provide $1.1 billion for fighting Zika with a small portion of the funding expected to be offset by cuts elsewhere.

“I think Zika is pretty done,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate GOP conference.

A contentious provision that would have blocked Zika aid to clinics in Puerto Rico that receive Planned Parenthood funding also appears to have been resolved. It was not clear whether leaders had watered down or dropped the language altogether.

Flint, flood aid remain stumbling blocks

Senators said the biggest unsettled issue was whether the final package would contain flood aid for Louisiana and other states, as well as dollars for Flint to deal with lead in its drinking water.

Thune said Democrats were insisting on aid for Flint, while some GOP senators were making a similar push for flood aid.

“Maybe it ends up neither gets addressed in the CR,” said Thune. He said lawmakers could end up dealing with both issues in the year-end spending package.

The White House has requested $2.6 billion for flooding, while the Senate recently approved $220 million for Flint in its version of the Water Resources Development Act.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said yesterday there may be bipartisan support for a deal to allow some immediate flood aid with the promise of more dollars for both Flint and Louisiana late in the year.

“There may be something more required in the omnibus. This is kind of a down payment to get things going,” said Cassidy.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said Flint aid could still come in the CR. But, he conceded that backers were pursuing “multiple tracks” including the CR, WRDA and the year-end deal.

Other efforts

A push by backers of the Export-Import Bank to include a provision in the CR that would allow the institution to make deals worth more than $10 million will probably not survive the talks.

“It’s not in there, but we are still negotiating,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), an appropriator and leading critic of the bank who has prevented the Senate from considering board nominations.

Thune said he doubted adding the Ex-Im Bank provision would fly with House conservatives, who say the bank’s deals amount to corporate welfare and have pressed to have it shut down.

Also unresolved is a push by conservatives to ban the administration from moving ahead with plans to hand over federal oversight of internet domain names to a global nonprofit.

Thune said a compromise might stop short of permanently blocking it outright but could delay the transition. Conservatives say the issue needs to be studied more closely because it would give foreign countries more control over the internet.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his chamber would continue to wait to see what deal emerges from the Senate.

“I believe they are getting close,” said McCarthy yesterday, adding that leaders in both chambers have been communicating about the emerging accord.

Still, the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of 172 House members, yesterday signaled some impatience by introducing its own CR that would fund the government through Dec. 9 and provide some Zika dollars. It would also contain several contentious riders, including the pesticide waiver.

“I believe it is imperative for the House to act quickly with a responsible approach to fund the federal government. Rather than continuing to allow the Senate to wallow in the misery of Harry Reid’s hostage taking and ever-moving goalposts,” said RSC Chairman Bill Flores (R-Texas).