GAVEL DOWN: Closing Out the Week in Congress

9 min read

POPVOX Gavel Down_Closing Out the Week in Congress_date (date format _April_11_18_2016

House passed bipartisan bill to overhaul 40-year-old toxic chemicals law, stalled in Senate after lawmaker called for more time to read bill. House failed to pass energy and water spending bill over controversial amendment. House passed amended Senate energy bill, teeing up conference committee to reconcile differences. House Natural Resources marked up and advanced latest Puerto Rico debt crisis bill. House and Senate have approved separate funding measures to combat Zika virus, now working to merge the two measures.


Top Search on POPVOX this week: "firearm"

Most Active Bill on POPVOX this week:
H.R. 5090 To ensure that air transportation between the United States and the European Union complies with the intent of article 17 bis of the United States-European Union-Norway-Iceland Air Transport Agreement of June 21, 2011


House passed chemical safety overhaul

House passed bipartisan chemical safety bill by vote of 403-12. Bill would overhaul 40-year-old toxic chemicals law, allowing Environmental Protection Agency to gather more information about a chemical before it is used in the U.S.

SponsorRep. John Shimkus [R, IL-15]

Senate was expected to pass the bill later this week, but on Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY] placed a hold, saying he needed more time to read the 180-page bill.

Obama administration “strongly supports” the measure, saying the bill would provide the EPA necessary power and resources to review new chemicals. Statement of Administration said the bill “represents a historic advancement for both chemical safety and environmental law.”


So what is the TSCA?
Toxic Substances Control Act (1976) is main law regulating chemicals in everyday products, from cleaning supplies to pesticides to laundry detergents. Despite the name, TSCA does not separate chemicals into toxic v. non-toxic, but rather existing chemicals v. new chemicals. When TSCA became law, all existing chemicals were considered safe for use and grandfathered in without examination. Out of roughly 85,000 chemicals in use today, the EPA has been able to ban or restrict production or use of five chemicals.

House failed to pass energy and water spending bill

On Thursday, the Energy and Water Appropriations bill failed to pass the House due to controversy over an amendment to prohibit discrimination against LGBT employees by federal contractors.

Sponsor: Rep. Michael Simpson [R, ID-2]

Here's a recap:

  • Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney [D, NY-18] introduced an amendment on Wednesday night to enforce a 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The amendment passed 223-195.
  • On Thursday during debate on the appropriations bill, Rep. Rick Allen [R, GA-12] read a passage from the Bible and questioned whether members would violate their religious principles by supporting the bill. Several Republican members said they could no longer support it.
  • The vote failed 305-112, as the bill shed both Republicans who withdrew support for the bill with the addition of the amendment and Democrats who had supported the amendment but not the underlying bill, which Speaker Paul Ryan referred to as “sabotage.”
  • GOP conference will meet following Memorial Day recess to discuss how to resume appropriations process, including potential rule changes for considering floor amendments.


House passed Senate energy bill, teeing up conference committee 

House voted 241-178 to pass amended version of Senate energy bill, setting up conference committee to resolve differences between the two energy bills.

House Amendment included H.R. 8 and several House-passed bills related to energy and natural resources. House version is less broad and does not include permanent reauthorization of Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is included in Senate bill. Both bills include provisions to modernize energy infrastructure like electric grid and pipelines.

Sponsor: Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R, AK]

Sponsor: Rep. Fred Upton [R, MI-6]

Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi named conferees, including 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats. See if your lawmaker will be working on energy reform.

So what is a conference committee?
A conference committee is a temporary, ad hoc panel composed of members from both House and Senate to resolve disagreements on particular legislation that has passed both chambers.

POPVOX Puerto Rico markup House Natural Resources

House Natural Resources advanced Puerto Rico debt crisis bill

House Natural Resources Committee voted 29-10 to approve amended Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). The bill would establish an oversight board and provide Puerto Rico tools to restructure its $70 billion debt. 

Bill prevents new Dept. of Labor overtime rule from applying to Puerto Rico and clarifies fiscal oversight board’s authority to protect prioritized payments to bondholders. Language that gives federal district court “personal jurisdiction over any person or entity” remains.

Sponsor: Rep. Sean Duffy [R, WI-7]

Included in the proposed amendments: Rep. McClintock’s [R, CA-4] Amendment 094, which sought to exempt debt that is Constitutionally backed from the bill on the grounds that the bill would undermine credibility of all Constitutionally backed debts and create a precedent for states. However, Chairman Bishop (R, UT-1) countered that it was not Congress’s domain to determine priority of creditors, and it was further argued that no precedent for states could be established via laws of territories.

In the end, the committee approved 11 amendments and faced significant bipartisan compromises. The bill is expected to gain House approval, however, the fate of the bill is still largely unknown. Sen. Bob Menendez [D, NJ] and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez [D, IL-4] said they will actively work to significantly change or sink the bill as they feel it does not provide for an orderly debt restructuring process and grants too much power to the fiscal oversight board, whose members are unknown. Additionally, Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT] said the bill treats Puerto Rico like a colony, and that perhaps statehood is necessary

Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi mentioned his bipartisan bill to make Puerto Rico a state by 2021. Pierluisi represents the island in Congress but cannot vote

Sponsor: Rep. Pedro Pierluisi [R, PR]

House passed Senate energy bill, teeing up conference committee 

Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Tom Frieden said, "We have a narrow window of opportunity to scale up effective Zika prevention measures, and that window is closing," as House and Senate began talks to merge their two funding measures to combat Zika virus.

Senate approved $1.1B in amendment offered by Sens. Blunt and Murray, 68-29 (included in THUD/MilCon appropriations bill which passed 89-8).

House passed bill to provide $648M through the end of the fiscal year. House also passed an older bill that had been introduced in several Congresses removing environmental restrictions on pesticides in waterways. Renamed the Zika Vector Control Act, the bill passed 258-156.

Sponsor: Rep. Bob Gibbs [R, OH-7]

Obama administration underscored importance of developing tools for vector control and reducing mosquito populations. Last month President Obama signed bill into law to speed up development of vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat Zika infections, but the bill lacked necessary funding. President Obama reiterated three-month-old request for $1.9B, saying "[Congress] needs to get me a bill that has sufficient funds to do the job."

New Bills on the Block



Weekend Reads

"Observations on the Toxic Substances Control Act and EPA Implementation" from Government Accountability Office

"Shared, Collaborative and On Demand: The New Digital Economy" by Aaron Smith, Pew Research Center

"Conference Committee and Related Procedures"  by Elizabeth Rybicki, Congressional Research Service

"Hail to the Computer" by Daniel Oberhaus, Popular Mechanics

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!


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