Busy Lame Duck Week Continues

November 19, 2014

pic-capitolDuring their brief week in session before recessing again for the Thanksgiving holiday, Congress will spend time debating the Keystone XL pipeline, consider several Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-related bills, deal with the confirmation of judicial and ambassador nominees and finally address legislation that would overhaul the government’s surveillance authorities.

On Nov. 14, the House passed legislation 252-161, with 31 Democrats joining 221 Republican,  to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, putting the onus on embattled Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) to conjure enough votes from her Democratic colleagues to send the bill to President Barack Obama.

House Republicans rushed the Keystone bill (H.R. 5682), sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to the floor once reports surfaced that Sen. Landrieu was working to secure a unanimous consent request to bring her legislation (S. 2280) she cosponsored with Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to the Senate floor for a vote. If passed with the necessary 60 votes, the identical Rep. Cassidy bill will be considered passed and then sent to the president. Both members of Congress have been pushing for a vote on the pipeline ahead of their Dec. 6 runoff election for the Louisiana Senate seat.

Following several confirmation votes, the Senate plans to hold a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to legislation, S. 2685 that would overhaul the government’s surveillance authorities. Specifically, the bill would ban the collection of private phone and Internet records and require a secret court to authorize collection of data on individual callers, except in defined emergencies. According to the bill sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), his measure offers more privacy protections that a similar bill (H.R. 2261) that passed in the House back in May.

It remains unclear whether Sen. Leahy has the 60 votes necessary to overcome the first procedural hurdle, since several members from both sides of the aisle have expressed reservations over the legislation. Even if the bill advances through procedural votes, leaders will have limited time to consider it on the floor, as there remains a number of other pressing issues in the lame duck.

Meanwhile, this week, the House is expected to take up a number of bills targeting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory processes to increase transparency and facilitate construction of large scale projects. The first measure, H.R. 1422, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013, would require greater disclosure and more opportunities for public input regarding the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. Next, they will address H.R. 4012, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014, which would prohibit the EPA from moving forward with regulatory actions if the scientific and technical data used are not shared with the public in a manner that allows for third-party, independent verification and replication.  Finally, the chamber will consider H.R. 4795, the Promoting New Manufacturing Act, which would require the EPA to issue guidance and regulations for companies seeking preconstruction permits whenever new air quality standards are proposed. Despite, the likely passage of all of these measures in the House, the president has threaten to veto them.

When Congress returns from the holiday recess, they will only have a few weeks left in the 113th legislative session. Leaders in both the House and Senate will spend the remainder of the year working to pass a  continuing resolution/omnibus appropriations bill to keep the federal government funded through 2015, the annual defense authorization bill, and a measure to extend a number of expiring tax provisions.

Last week, NSBA released a survey on the Lame Duck Survey which details their priorities. Click here to download that survey.