By Scott Berry, Director of Policy and Government Affairs, US Water Alliance

February 28, 2022

There are several factors slowing progress in Congress and leading to uncertainty. Congress’s attention has been occupied for much of February on funding for FY22—which we are now five months into. After passing the third Continuing Resolution earlier this month to continue funding the government and avoid a government shutdown, leadership on both sides of the aisle have stated their continued commitment to passing an appropriations omnibus package that will fully fund the government for the remainder of the current fiscal year (through September 30). Expectations remain optimistic to get this FY22 package across the finish line by the new deadline of March 11. Once Congress wraps up either an FY22 spending bill or another Continuing Resolution, the focus will shift immediately to the FY23 appropriations process and getting all 12 appropriations bills across the finish line by October of this year.
Democrats also continue to spin their wheels on the Build Back Better Act, which contains, among many other pieces, billions in additional spending for water. Negotiations remain stalled, despite sentiments within the Democratic Party that February would be a month of renewed vigor on Build Back Better. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) continues to be the face of resistance and negotiations and has said that for now, he is focused on prioritizing government funding (see above) and election reform over Build Back Better. But the window is closing ahead of President Biden’s first State of the Union address scheduled for March 1st, where Biden had hoped to have this signature piece of his agenda to show off to the nation.
In addition to these legislative fights taking up a great deal of the oxygen in the room, three other factors are slowing progress. First, the retirement announcement of Supreme Court Justice Breyer means Congress is gearing up for an election year SCOTUS fight. Both sides are ready to make this as political as possible, even before a nominee is selected. Vetting of potential candidates and pre-meetings with key Senators is already starting as President Biden intends to make good on his campaign promise to nominate a Black woman. Second, Senator Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) suffered a stroke a few weeks ago. He is a reliable democratic vote in the 50/50 Senate, so nothing that needs all 50 Democrats to pass can move until he returns. He is notoriously private, so there has not been much on his condition. Previous senatorial stroke sufferers have been out for months at a time, though, so leadership has to plan very carefully for now. Third, Russia’s attack on the Ukraine, and the subsequent diplomatic and military fallout, are also going to occupy the lion’s share of Congress’s attention for the foreseeable future. With all the unknowns around the current situation, it’s difficult to project the impacts this will have on the political and legislative landscape.
Also this month, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a beta version of its Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool as a part of the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative to deliver at least 40% of the overall benefits of federal water, climate, and related investments to disadvantaged communities. Once the tool advances past the beta stage, it will be used by federal agencies to ensure investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and future legislation are implemented equitably. The release of the beta version of the tool kicks off a 60-day public comment period, after which CEQ will analyze feedback and make any necessary changes.