Senate Dem blocks own bill over California drought language

Senate Dem blocks own bill over California drought language
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Retiring Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Hispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president California AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list MORE was expecting to score one final legislative victory with a major water resources package just before the holidays.

But the California Democrat instead got what she would consider a lump of coal: a last-minute policy rider that is now causing her to block her own bill.

“It breaks my heart,” Boxer said during a lengthy and impassioned floor speech on Friday. “Here I am, standing up, making a big fuss over my own bill, saying vote no. It’s really painful for me to have to filibuster my own bill.”

At issue is the last-minute inclusion of controversial California drought language in a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) successfully slipped in long-desired 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 federal water infrastructure in the Golden State.

Boxer, ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the move would undermine the Endangered Species Act, permanently harm fisheries and change the way Congress approves dams.

Her unanimous consent request to offer an amendment that would strip the drought provision was swiftly rejected Friday afternoon.

“What right does anybody have to do that, in the middle of the night, before Christmas, days before [current government funding] expires?” Boxer said, who warned frustrated Republican colleagues she would be holding the floor for a long time. “Kevin McCarthy ... has launched another water wars battle. It’s ugly and it’s wrong.”

The underlying waterways bill, passed by the House on Thursday, authorizes dozens of infrastructure projects around the country and authorizes emergency aid for the lead-stricken community of Flint, Mich.

The authorization is needed so that $170 million in Flint funding, contained in a House-passed continuing resolution (CR), can actually be spent. The CR is being held up by Democrats amid a separate fight over miners healthcare.

During her floor speech, Boxer delivered veiled criticism of her Democratic colleague’s support for the drought language. Feinstein, who skipped Boxer’s farewell address, had argued Republicans are likely to push "even more harmful drought legislation” next year if the drought language doesn’t pass this year.

“Oh really? This is just the start," Boxer said. “We’re opening up the door to more and more attacks.”

Although delaying votes on WRDA may push work into the weekend, committee leaders think the measure will still end up passing, despite other concerns regarding a “Buy America” amendment and a regional water dispute.

“Let the clock go. It will run out,” Boxer said.

Boxer said she empathized with senators who just wanted to wrap up work and leave town, because she is also anxious to get home to her family for the holidays — especially after delivering what she thought was her final farewell address on the Senate floor.

But she said it was more important for her to take a stand against what she dubbed as “midnight riders.”

"I know people in the Senate are really mad at me right now. Well, what a perfect way for me to go out," Boxer said. “You come in fighting, and you go out fighting.”