After taking the month of August off, Congress has returned to Washington D.C. with a packed legislative to-do list. At the top of the list are striking a deal on a coronavirus relief package and passing a Continuing Resolution (CR) ahead of the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. Both of these endeavors are proving difficult as Congress and the White House remain locked in a stalemate over how to provide another round of coronavirus relief assistance after negotiations between the White House and Congressional Democrats broke down last month. However, there may be a potential for renewed talks after the U.S. House of Representatives’ Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of 50 lawmakers, unveiled their compromise coronavirus relief framework the “March to Common Ground.” The $2 trillion framework aims to strike a compromise between the roughly $3.4 trillion House-passed HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) and the $650 billion skinny bill proposed by Senate Republicans.
It is unlikely the framework will become law, but it is an effort by the caucus to force party leaders and the White House to restart negotiations. After the framework’s unveiling, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows signaled that the Administration is willing to consider a $1.5 trillion deal, but it remains to be seen whether congressional Democrats and Republicans are willing to accept the offer. What is certain is that if a deal is struck it is likely to come after the November elections.
In addition to addressing coronavirus assistance needs, Congress must also pass a CR by the end of the month to avoid a government shutdown on October 1, when fiscal year 2021 begins. The House passed its fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills earlier this summer, but the Senate Committee on Appropriations has yet to put forth their spending bills. A CR would keep the government funded at fiscal year 2020 levels and allows lawmakers to continue work to finalize fiscal year 2021 spending bills. This means that clean water assistance programs will continue to be funded at current levels for the foreseeable future. Lawmakers have agreed to pass a “clean CR,” free of contentious policy riders, to keep the package bipartisan. The only question is how long the CR would last. Republicans want it to extend through December 18, while Democrats are advocating for it to extend to February 26 of next year. In either event, Congress will pass the package by the end of the month to avoid a crashing over the fiscal cliff and so that members are able to return to their states and districts in October to campaign in the final weeks ahead of the November elections.
USEPA Prepares to Issue Revised Clean Water Act Affordability Policy
After years of review into the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) policy on what defines a community’s ability to afford obligations in meeting Clean Water Act standards, including a congressionally directed National Association of Public Administration study into the issue, the agency is preparing to release an updated policy. The Federal Register publication updates the Financial Capability Assessment for Clean Water Act Obligations and highlights the priority to build into the policy flexibility in determining if a community is dedicating sufficient resources to comply with water quality standards and other Clean Water Act mandates. Under the current approach, the agency and states rely essentially upon Median Household Income to determine whether a community is adequately investing in treatment needs. The proposed new approach would include consideration of the lowest quintile of income of a community, poverty indexes, and the costs of all water services (including drinking water) to better understand the burdens a community confronts in meeting clean water infrastructure demands related to permitting decisions or enforcement actions. The agency will allow for a thirty-day public comment period on the revisions. Reexamining affordability in this context is something that has been championed by CASA’s national partners for many years and represents meaningful progress on the issue.