Congress Enters Chaotic December with Major National Priorities in the Balance

Dec 1, 2021

Congress returned to Washington this week on the heels of their Thanksgiving state and district work periods with a plate full of major issues up for consideration – several with deadlines before the year’s end.

Leaders in both Chambers have been eyeing a tentative end to this Congressional Session on December 10th. However, it looks increasingly likely that date will be pushed back as defense spending, annual appropriations, the debt ceiling, and the Build Back Better Act all remain on the end-of-year Congressional plate.

This week, the Senate is continuing its consideration of the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). While this legislation isn’t formally required to pass each year, Congress has a long history – spanning over 6 decades – in which it has considered funding levels and policy direction each year for the Department of Defense (DOD) and related facets of the federal government.

As noted in the most recent Current update, the bill under consideration this year does not include comprehensive PFAS provisions that could impact the public clean water utility sector. Instead, PFAS provisions and amendments in the FY22 Senate NDAA are  more narrowly focused on testing, reporting, and remediation of PFAS at military bases and installations.

Additionally, cyber security has emerged as an area of interest within the NDAA, specifically a proposal to direct DOD to work with the national cyber director and head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in designing a pilot project to expand DOD’s collaboration with the private sector.

The provision is drawn from legislation sponsored by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), known as the Cyber Incident Reporting Act. Their proposal would impact the water sector by establishing a 72-hour reporting requirement for critical infrastructure owners and operators and civilian federal agencies to report to CISA if they experience a cyber-attack. The water sector is engaging in discussions with Congress about other ideas to improve cybersecurity, but those discussions are not part of consideration for the NDAA.

The other looming deadline this week is to address how to fund the federal government before funding lapses Friday. It appears there is limited risk at this point for a government shutdown with the primary issue of concern being how long into the new year Congress will want to have a stopgap measure in place – which likely means late January or February but could be as late as March. NACWA will remain engaged with Appropriators to advance our sector’s annual funding priorities as these negotiations slog ahead.

Finally, the Senate is primed to begin its consideration of the Build Back Better Act after the House passed the measure last month. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has stated that he hopes to pass the bill by Christmas Day – possibly as soon as December 13th. This will be a daunting task – bringing moderate and progressive Democrats to a deal and potentially allowing Republicans an opportunity to force an extensive amendment process where members will be asked to make tough votes – and may lead to adjusted or cancelled Christmas or New Year plans later in the month. NACWA is fully anticipating that this Senate consideration of whether and how to pass Build Back Better could extend into the new year.

NACWA staff remains closely engaged as all of these deliberations continue and encourages members to continue advocating to their respective Members of Congress on the positive impact clean water investments have on their utility and community to help ensure that if overall spending levels are cut, clean water investments still remain a strong component.

Please contact NACWA’s legislative team, Kristina Surfus, Tony Frye and Jason Isakovic, anytime to discuss further or with any questions.

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