Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lame Duck CFATS Legislation

We are going to be hearing a great deal of prognostication about what the effects will be from the split government we will be living through for the next two years. A Democratic President, a Republican House, and a closely divided Democratic Senate will make for some convoluted politics. Listening to the TV pundits last night and this morning, it seems that many people don’t see the Republican leadership working too effectively with Obama and Reed to get anything accomplished.

One thing is certain, the results will make it more important for Speaker Pelosi to try to get as much accomplished as possible during the upcoming lame duck session (currently scheduled to start on November 15th). It will be the last chance for any significant liberal agenda items for at least two years. Even Sen. Reed will have an easier time in November and December getting things passed than he will starting in January.

CFATS and the Lame Duck

On a couple of occasions I have opined that there won’t be any significant movement on CFATS legislation in the Lame Duck session beyond a straight extension in the DHS funding bill. Generally speaking I still think that that is likely, but there is, because of the split Congress, a chance for the Senate version of HR 2868 to pass.

The changed calculus is based upon the fact that apparently the voters were voting against the Democrats more than for the Republicans. If the Republicans in the House are not effective in working with Obama and Reed, it seems possible that they will be turned out in 2012 in much the same way as the Democrats were this year.

If the current Democratic leadership subscribes to this idea, they will be looking to come back in two years to resume work on their agenda. They would try to use the Lame Duck Session to make it easier to resume that work. That would include passing interim measures to prevent Republican action on the issues in the interregnum.

For CFATS the Democrats would not want Representatives King (R, NY) and Dent (R, PA) writing a permanent CFATS authorization legislation. To make that less likely, passing a three year extension as embodied in the Collins version of HR 2868 would make a great deal of sense. Even the voluntary IST and training provisions of the bill could make it easier to require the same type provisions in legislation two-years from now by showing that the provisions will not bankrupt chemical facilities.

Getting the bill through the current Senate should not be too difficult, if the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee gets off the stick and files their report on the legislation. The big problem would be to prevent the floor discussion from adding so many of the House measures back into the bill that Sen. Collins could no longer support the measure. Without her support (and that of her fellow Senator from Maine) the cloture vote on the bill could not pass.

The big if in this idea is how much support such a measure would garner from Chairmen Thompson and Waxman. They both fought hard to get their version of HR 2868 to the floor over lots of opposition. If they take the view that they will have another chance in two years to get what they want in CFATS authorization, then they would probably support such a measure.

The two people that will decide if this idea moves forward are Senators Lieberman and Collins. If Sen. Collins thinks that an unencumbered permanent authorization of CFATS (which was in large measure her program) is probable in the next Congress, she would probably oppose bringing HR 2868 (even though it is her compromise version if the bill), to a floor vote in the Senate. Likewise, if she can’t convince Sen. Lieberman to control the IST amendments proposed on the floor, then she won’t support continuation of the HR 2868 process.

Watch to see if the Committee Report on HR 2868 is submitted in the first day or two of the Lame Duck Session. If it is filed, the Collins-Lieberman deal has probably been finalized.

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