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 BarrassoGOP eyes big gamble on ObamaCare Reid defends relationship with McConnell in farewell speech Overnight Energy: Trump taps EPA foe to head agency | Energy reform bill officially dead MORE (R-Wyo.), would have repealed the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the United States” rule and given the agency guidelines to re-write it, while exempting numerous waterways and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.
Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidReid: Comey should be investigated in wake of Russia report Spokesman: NY Times ignored Reid's comments in pre-election story on Russia Senate passes dozens of bills on way out of town 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 McConnellHeitkamp is Trump's top choice for Agriculture secretary: report Schumer calls for Senate probe into Russian interference Senate passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown 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 BoxerSenate clears water bill with Flint aid, drought relief Senate Dem blocks own bill over California drought language House passes water bill with Flint aid, drought relief 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.