Monday, November 29, 2010

Congress Returns Today

Today marks yet another return of the lame duck session of Congress, this time after a nine (or ten) day Thanksgiving weekend. There are a lot of high-priority issues that must be dealt with by the end of the calendar year and it is unlikely that the legislative year will last past Christmas Eve. Only one of these high-priority issues, the budget, has the potential for directly affecting chemical security issues. But there are other legislative issues that might come up that might be of interest to the chemical security community.

The Budget

As of last night there was still no indication on the web sites for either the House or Senate spending committees that there was any movement on the budget. Since something must be done by midnight Friday (or the federal government will ‘shut down’), that means that there is almost certainly ‘behind closed doors’ work being done on the budget. I don’t have the kind of contacts necessary to tell you what is being discussed, but I would surmise that it falls into one of three categories:

• A short term continuing resolution with an end date of no later than December 24th;
• A long term continuing resolution with an end date after the first of the year; or
• An Omnibus spending bill.
The later would indicate that they had reached at least some form of agreement with the current Republican membership in the Senate that would allow for some of the spending priorities of the Democrats to be included in the budget. The first will take place if the Democratic leadership thinks that they have a decent chance wearing down opposition on at least some of their additional spending priorities in an Omnibus spending bill. If Reid sees no chance of getting any of the Democrats priorities included in the budget, we can expect to see them punt the problem to next year where the Democrats will do their best to ensure that the Republicans take the blame for any budget.

Any of the above options will almost certainly include specific language extending the authorization for CFATS. Now this is where it gets potentially interesting. Since it appears that any Omnibus bill will come out of the Senate (to be tacked onto one of the two budget bills passed by the House in June before the House Appropriations Committee stopped work for the year), a very important player in the bill will be Sen. Lautenberg (D, NJ) who is acting chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee.

Sen. Lautenberg has very definite views about what should be included in the CFATS program; for example he has been an active supporter of IST and of limiting federal pre-emption of State chemical security rules. Two years ago, Sen. Lautenberg was at least influential in the addition of revised federal pre-emption language in the Homeland Security spending bill.

It is highly unlikely that a full blown IST provision would be added to a spending bill; that would draw the ire of Sen. Collins, a vote that would be necessary for the Democrats to pass the bill in the Senate. Some other, carefully crafted, expansions of the CFATS authorization might make it past her opposition in the larger Omnibus bill. Any Lautenberg proposals would almost certainly pass, this year, in the House; not so likely next year.

CFATS Legislation

It continues to be unlikely that any CFATS specific bill will pass this year. The Senate Homeland Security Committee has yet to publish their report on HR 2868, the only bill that has any chance of being passed, so any consideration of that bill in the Senate is being delayed. A vigorous floor debate on that bill is a certainty, with Democrats sure to try to get IST and whistleblower provisions, at a minimum, added to the bill. This will be their last chance for at least two years to get such measures considered, much less passed.

The only other bill that has even a remote possibility for consideration is Lautenberg’s S 3598, the water facility security bill. Since Sen. Boxer’s Committee has not officially looked at the bill (their one hearing this summer was generic) and does not have a mark-up hearing planned, this bill will not make it to the floor for consideration. Even if it did, it would not garner enough votes for cloture.

Cyber Security Legislation

There are a number of bills in various stages of the legislative process that deal with cyber security measures and only one, HR 6423, actually addresses control system security. None of them is likely to be brought to a floor vote in either house. Sen. Lieberman (I, DE) made this point clear in the Stuxnet hearing earlier this month when he promised to re-introduce S 3480 early in the next session.

Inserted Stuff

This late in the session, and with a change in control coming in the next session, we are going to have to watch closely any controversial legislation that passes. Deals are going to be made and there are a number of people that have only a very limited number of options to get favorite things passed into law. This is a great prescription for little noticed items added to various bills, especially spending bills. We’ll have to watch for these additions.

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