(December 2, 2020) - With Congress set to adjourn for the year by mid-December, the House and Senate are working quickly to finalize all outstanding remaining legislation. Congressional focus is on “must pass” legislation to fund the government past its current December 11 expiration date.
Just before Thanksgiving, Congressional appropriators made positive strides when they struck a bipartisan deal on setting a $1.4 trillion top-line spending level for the 12 annual appropriations bills, which they are now working to craft into one omnibus spending package.
While several policy divisions still remain and a temporary continuing resolution (CR) may be needed to fund the government for a few days past the December 11 deadline, NACWA has had positive conversations with Congressional Appropriations staff in and there appears to be a strong desire to pass a larger omnibus package with solid clean water funding numbers before Congress recesses for the year.
Congress is also working to continue its nearly six-decade streak of passing an annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by year’s end. NACWA and the water sector were successful this past summer in working to exclude any problematic PFAS related provisions for public water utilities from the NDAA that would bypass EPA’s regulatory process in both the House and Senate versions. Given that both chambers’ NDAA versions instead focused on Department of Defense (DoD) related PFAS measures, and the remaining sticking points in negotiations are on unrelated issues, NACWA believes it is very unlikely that any problematic PFAS provisions for the clean water sector will be included in the final NDAA.
As far as prospects for a COVID-19 relief package, Congressional Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on the size and scope of another possible bill despite increasing political pressure to pass something before the holidays. Leadership in both parties has been unwilling to compromise enough to move negotiations forward, and given the limited time left this Congress it is unlikely that any major COVID-19 package will be passed before the end of this year.
In a last-ditch attempt yesterday, a bipartisan group of Senators put forward a new compromise proposal which included a second round of CARES municipal and state relief. The package proposed $160 billion for this fund, which is far below the state and local governments’ anticipated needs of $500 billion. It also, as far as NACWA is aware, contains no specific funding for water and wastewater utilities.
NACWA is closely monitoring the existing CARES funds as some utilities have had success working with their local, county and state governments for secure limited funds for COVID-19 expenses ranging from PPE, wastewater monitoring and aid for utility ratepayer assistance programs. While these funds have provided welcome relief for some. they are far from adequate as a substitute for direct aid for the water sector.
As of this writing, the compromise COVID-19 relief proposal between the bipartisan group had not secured the support of House or Senate leadership and its prospects appear limited. Any larger potential deal will likely wait until next Congress and President-elect Biden is sworn into office.
NACWA is continuing work to advocate for clean water the remainder of this year, as well as to lay the groundwork around critical clean water legislation for next year. Please contact NACWA’s Managing Director of Government Affairs, Kristina Surfus, or NACWA’s Director of Legislative Affairs, Jason Isakovic, to discuss further.