A decadeslong water dispute is threatening to hold up a waterways bill in the Senate, creating new potential hurdles for legislation that also contains emergency aid for Flint, Mich.
But committee leaders remain confident that the mounting Democratic and Republican opposition won’t be enough to derail the package, although they acknowledge that critics may be able to slow down work and push final passage into the weekend.
“If they insist on filing cloture, then it’s going to be Saturday, which is stupid because it’s going to pass,” Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Senate GOP expected to block defense bill amid stalemate MORE (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, told reporters Wednesday.
The nearly $12 billion package, which authorizes dozens of water infrastructure projects around the country and is on track to pass the House this week, is one of the last remaining items that the Senate intends to wrap up before leaving.
The latest threat to the measure is coming from senators who are angry over language that would strip a provision from a previous Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that says the governors of Alabama, Florida and Georgia should work together to resolve a decadeslong water dispute. That provision also says Congress can step in if the states don’t reach an agreement.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Banking Committee, said he “absolutely” won’t support the water bill without the provision and added that Sens. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThose predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold The metaverse is coming — society should be wary MORE (R-Ala.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Rubio: Dropping FARC from terrorist list threatens Colombians, US security MORE (R-Fla.) and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThis Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Two trajectories to Mars by the 2030s Russian weapons test endangers the International Space Station MORE (D-Fla.) share his strong opposition.
“It’s very detrimental to Alabama and Florida,” Shelby told reporters. “The governors have started, negotiated a little bit. We’ve always thought ... they could resolve this issue.”
Inhofe also expressed frustration with the issue, blaming the House for adding language to the WRDA conference report that would strip the water dispute provision.
“That’s another thing the House should not have done,” he said. “That’s regrettable the House saw fit to put language on there that has got some people riled up.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have blasted the underlying waterways bill for another reason: the last-minute inclusion of controversial California drought language.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) helped slip in language to provide drought relief to central and southern California. It would temporarily relax environmental standards and instruct federal officials to divert more water to farms and other users in the Golden State.
Retiring Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFirst senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid Bass receives endorsement from EMILY's List Bass gets mayoral endorsement from former California senator MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member on the Environment panel, has threatened to use every tool at her disposal to block the legislation if it still contains the drought language. She worries the proposed move would harm the fishery industry, undermine the Endangered Species Act and change how Congress approves new dams.
“I called you here today to express my strong opposition to an outrageous poison pill,” Boxer said Monday at a press conference. “This is a devastating maneuver. This last-minute backroom deal is so wrong; it is shocking.”
Some Democrats also have voiced major concerns over the drought provision but haven’t gone as far as vowing to vote against the underlying bill.
That’s because the WRDA contains authorization for Flint aid, which is needed in order to spend the $170 million contained in a continuing resolution (CR) to provide direct funding for communities like Flint that are suffering from lead-contaminated drinking water.
Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Senate Democrats look to fix ugly polling numbers Ford announces plans to increase electric vehicle production to 600K by 2023 MORE (D-Mich.), a leader on Flint efforts in the Senate, also voiced concern over the drought provisions but said she is still supporting the WRDA.
Flint aid “is being split between two bills,” Stabenow told reporters Wednesday. “So either both have to pass or the CR has to be changed.”
Democrats have also slammed House GOP leadership for stripping a so-called Buy America provision from WRDA, which would have required certain drinking water projects use American iron and steel products.
But even though Democrats have been making an aggressive, last-minute push to get the amendment reattached, lawmakers have stopped short in saying they would oppose the entire water package over the issue.
“I’m not giving up on this fight,” Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinWisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last Wisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE (D-Wis.) said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Why would we pass a bill that only benefits Russian and Chinese steel corporations when we could be providing certainty to American manufacturers of steel and iron?”