Weekly Congressional Update

Election 2016

According to FiveThirtyEight modeling based on current polling, poll variance is decreasing and as a result, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump has decreased. Clinton is now only 3 points ahead of Trump, project receive 46.6% of the popular vote with Donald Trump receiving 44.1% and Libertarian Gary Johnson, 8%. 

Stopgap Funding Bill

Republican leaders’ plans to quickly nail down and pass a must-pass stopgap measure to fund the government this fall bogged down over policy add-ons, raising doubts about the timing of the bill and complicating their early exit strategy.

With many lawmakers anxious to get back on the campaign trail, Senate and House GOP leaders were said to be trying to devise a plan to convince both chambers to take up and pass a continuing resolution (CR) by Sept. 21. The next steps remained in flux, as both Republicans and Democrats said they still hadn’t agreed to the details of the CR, including its plan to address the Zika virus, despite days of talks.

Congressional leaders from both parties are swapping offers on the details of a must-pass government spending bill in order to cement a deal before lawmakers leave town at the end of the Sept. 12 week.

Besides the details of how more than $1 billion in Zika funds will be spent, top Republicans and Democrats are negotiating an eleventh-hour appeal by many states to get disaster assistance attached to the new continuing resolution (CR). Also still being negotiated are policy items, including federal support for Planned Parenthood.

Lawmakers said their goal is to nail down an agreement by Sept. 15 in order to set the stage for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the measure up early the week of Sept. 19. After Senate action, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) plans to quickly bring the new CR to a vote in the House.

Minus congressional action, government funding will lapse Sept. 30. Leaders are resorting to another CR to prevent any threat of a shutdown as none of the 12 regular appropriations bills were finalized and sent to President Barack Obama’s desk this year. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), McConnell’s top lieutenant, told reporters that he had joined lawmakers from Louisiana, West Virginia, and other states in seeking to use the CR as a vehicle to steer money back to their states to help with storm damage. The previous evening, Louisiana sent a request to the White House detailing its need for $2.8 billion in federal aid, he said.

Water Resources Development Act

The Senate voted 94-3 on Sept. 14 to end debate on the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (S. 2848) in expectation of final passage Sept. 15. Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) raised a point of order based on the budget-balancing approach used in the $9.35 billion bill to allow more financial assistance to drinking water systems, but senators voted to waive the point of order on an 85-12 vote.

The bill would authorize an array of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work on ports, inland and coastal navigation channels, locks, dams, levees, flood walls and environmental restoration projects. Ports would be deepened, hazardous levees and dams rehabilitated and aging locks replaced. The legislation also would authorize financing for drinking water systems and wastewater systems and especially would authorize financial assistance for drinking water utilities with lead pollution as in Flint, Mich.

The full House may be ready to act on its version of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 within days, but uncertainty about floor time forced the bill’s chief author to heavily qualify his forecast today

The House will move the bill “hopefully here in the coming days or weeks or at least months,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), said.

Shuster spoke at a hearing that formally considered some of the latest reports from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on projects that have been recommended to Congress for possible inclusion in the bill (H.R. 5303).

ICANN Accountability Debated as Internet Transition Nears

Questions of accountability to global internet users are dogging the upcoming shift of control for behind-the-scenes technical functions of the internet out of U.S. hands. Accountability and transparency issues have been at the forefront of complaints by internet domain applicants and others against the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers as it continues to create and delegate new top-level internet domains.

The transition plan is catching heat on Capitol Hill, where top GOP lawmakers are voicing a number of misgivings about the move just weeks before it is scheduled to occur.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz is urging Congress to include language in a continuing resolution that would block the transition. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters Sept. 13 that he expects lawmakers will include such language in the continuing resolution. Cruz will hold a Senate Judiciary Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts Subcommittee hearing Sept. 14 to investigate what he calls the “possible dangers” of the plan. ICANN CEO and President Göran Marby and Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence E. Strickling are scheduled to testify.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration partnered with ICANN in 1998. The department formally announced its intentions to cede oversight in 2014.

The transition plan includes a set of measures designed to empower the ICANN community to enforce greater accountability for the organization through a series of checks on the board of directors. Such measures enable the community to, among other things, remove individual board members and recall the entire board. The plan has received broad support from the business community and Republican and Democratic lawmakers. (19 ECLR 362, 3/19/14). But GOP critics and attorneys representing top-level domain applicants question whether the added accountability measures will be enough.

House Passes Bill Boosting Advanced Nuclear Reactors

The House voted Sept. 12 to approve legislation backed by the nuclear energy industry that would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop a plan for licensing advanced nuclear reactors. The bill (H.R. 4979), by Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), was approved by voice vote.

The legislation would direct the NRC and the Energy Department to develop a memorandum of understanding to ensure both agencies have enough technical expertise on advanced nuclear reactor technologies, which have yet to be licensed for commercial operation in the U.S. The legislation, which is backed by groups such as the Nuclear Energy Institute, would direct the NRC to ensure it has enough knowledge to evaluate licenses, permits and design certifications for advanced reactors. The legislation defines an advanced nuclear reactor as “a nuclear fission reactor with significant design improvements over the most recent generation of nuclear reactors.”

“H.R. 4979 is Congress’s opportunity to ensure that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is able to provide the certainty that the private sector needs to invest in innovative advanced nuclear reactor technologies,” Latta said in a statement after the bill was passed unanimously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May. “The United States must remain a leader in the nuclear industry, which is vital for both our electricity generation mix and our national security.”


John Zang, DMGS Ohio, contributed to this report

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