Bid to block Obama’s water rule falls short

Bid to block Obama’s water rule falls short
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The Senate failed Tuesday to move forward with a GOP-led bill to overturn the Obama administration’s rule expanding its authority over small waterways.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoOvernight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door Overnight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal MORE (R-Wyo.), would have repealed the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the United States” rule and given the agency guidelines to re-write it, while exempting numerous waterways and consulting various stakeholders.

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Senators voted 57-41 on the measure, falling short of the 60 votes needed to end debate on whether to take up the bill. The close vote was largely along party lines, with only Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill GOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill Separating fact from fiction in the Regulatory Accountability Act MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinConvicted ex-coal exec appeals case to Supreme Court Sanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Overnight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellySanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Updated fuel regulations would modernize options at gas pumps Mnuchin mum as Dems press for answers on tax reform, Dodd-Frank MORE (Ind.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Mnuchin: WH won't double-count economic growth Technology's role in human trafficking cannot be ignored MORE (Mo.) joining their GOP colleagues to move the bill forward.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? MORE (D-Nev.) had predicted the failure Tuesday morning, calling the vote a “Republican charade.”

“This legislation will fail, of course, and Republicans know it will fail,” he added. “They are just wasting valuable Senate time on these show votes.”

The vote came despite the White House’s threat earlier in the day to veto the bill, saying it would cause “more confusion, uncertainty, and inconsistency,” in enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

The rule, finalized in May, asserts federal power over small water bodies like wetlands, headwaters and some ponds. But a federal court has blocked its implementation, while 31 states and multiple industry groups challenge its legality in the court system.

Republicans argued that the court’s stay reinforces their position against the rule.

“The administration’s so-called Waters of the U.S. regulation is a cynical and overbearing power grab dressed awkwardly as some clean-water measure,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellFive goals for Republicans this summer GOP leader tempers ObamaCare expectations Week ahead: Senate faces difficult path to consensus on healthcare MORE (R-Ky.) said. “It’s not.”

“The true aim of this massive regulatory overreach is pretty clear,” he continued. “After all, if you’re looking for an excuse to extend the reach of the federal bureaucracy as widely and intrusively as possible, why not just issue a regulation giving bureaucrats dominion over land that has touched a pothole, or a ditch, or a puddle at some point?”

GOP lawmakers said their bill, dubbed the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, would actually accomplish the administration’s stated goals of protecting the navigable waters traditionally covered under the Clean Water Act while also protecting upstream waters that feed into them.

“This legislation will protect the nation’s navigable waters and the streams and wetlands that help our navigable waters stay clean,” said Barrasso. “It is possible to have reasonable regulations to help preserve our waterways while respecting the difference between state waters and federal waters.”

Democrats accused the Republicans of trying to undo a significant effort to fight water pollution.

“It’s about pollution, not protection,” said Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTime is now to address infrastructure needs Tom Steyer testing waters for Calif. gubernatorial bid Another day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“The name of this bill is the Federal Water Quality Protection Act. I tell you, if we could sue for false advertising, we’d have a great case,” she said. “Because this bill doesn’t protect anything. It allows for pollution of many bodies of water that provide drinking water to 117 million Americans.”

In the veto threat earlier Tuesday, the Obama administration defended its regulatory process.

“The agencies' rulemaking, grounded in science and the law, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from the Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court,” it wrote.

But under the GOP bill, any new rules to define water jurisdiction would have to be written in a way “inconsistent with the [Clean Water Act] as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in more confusion, uncertainty, and inconsistency.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are urging Senators to vote for the bill.

Both groups had designated the bill as a “key vote” that will factor into how they evaluate senators’ performance in the upcoming election season.

The Senate this week might also take up Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-Iowa) legislation that would simply overturn the regulation under the Congressional Review Act.

Ernst's legislation would only require a simple majority of senators to pass, not the 60 needed for the failed Barrasso bill.