Friday, November 12, 2010

Lame Duck Congress

While many pundits are focused on prognostication about the 112th Congress that will start in January, next week the 111th Congress will return to finish out the last month and a half of their term. The same people will be in charge and the same issues have to be addressed. The big difference is that many won’t be returning, so they won’t need to worry about what the voters think while others know that they will have more power to persevere in the next Congress. These two facts will color what can be done.

Chemical Security Legislation

The current CFATS authority expires on December 3rd. Congress will take some sort of action on legislation to continue that program. The most likely effort will be a one year extension in the DHS budget bill. If an actual budget doesn’t pass (a very real possibility if the Democrats try to stuff a budget bill with last minute attempts to add programs that won’t have a chance in the upcoming Republican controlled House) any continuing resolution will contain a CFATS extension for the length of the CR. I won’t be surprised to see a couple of short term continuing resolutions to give the 111th more time to pass their budget bill (probably a single, huge bill).

There are a number of bills that specifically address CFATS ranging from HR 2477 (which makes the current program permanent), thru HR 2868 (which slightly modifies and extends CFATS for three years), to S 2996 (which extends CFATS for five years). The only one that has any chance of passage is HR 2868 and I’ve discussed a number of possible scenarios that might result in passage in earlier blogs (most recently), but I won’t waste any money on betting on passage.

Adding chemical security requirements to water treatment facility security requirements is currently only addressed by one bill (the Senate version of HR 2868 removed the House provisions that included this), S 3598. The Senate has held only one hearing on this bill and the Environment and Public Works Committee is unlikely to report this bill. If it does, the Democrats are unlikely to be able to muster 60 votes (because of the current IST provisions in the bill) to force a vote on this bill. If it does get to a floor vote, it would almost certainly pass and could be taken up and passed in the House if the Senate vote comes early enough. Needless to say that Greenpeace is pushing for this bill to be passed.

Cyber Security Legislation

There were a number of cyber security bills introduced in the 111th Congress. None really specifically address control system security issues. Only one has come to a floor vote, HR 4061, and it passed easily. No action has been taken in the Senate on that bill, no hearings and no committee votes. While it is unlikely to come to a floor vote, it would probably pass. It could make it to the floor at the very end of the session if the leadership really wanted to get some sort of cyber security bill passed and nothing else worked. If there were no floor amendments, this bill would not need to go back to the House for further action.

S 3480 is the Senate bill that is best positioned to come to a floor vote. As I have mentioned on a number of occasions, we have been waiting for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s report on this bill since June. There is some opposition to some provisions of this bill so there would probably be a fairly extensive number of floor amendments that would be faced. This would make this a time consuming bill to pass, making it difficult in this short session. If the leadership on both sides of the aisle could agree to limit the amendment process this bill could probably pass, but not in enough time to make it through the House.

Other Legislation of Interest

HR 2200, the TSA authorization bill, has been ordered reported in the Senate (last year), so it could come to the Senate floor. New concerns about cargo screening, and passenger screening technology could lead to a large number of floor amendments, again making this a time consuming bill to pass. It would have to go back to the House, because of changes made in committee. That makes it more difficult to pass in the short session.

HR 4842, the DHS S&T authorization bill, passed in the House but has had no action taken in the Senate. This could be a sleeper bill that could slide through a floor vote in the Senate if the leadership decides to take it up.

Watch Them Closely

While many people have called the 111th a ‘do nothing’ Congress, there have actually been a significant number of things passed. We will probably see a large number of little noticed bills making their way quickly through the legislative process in the lame duck session. Most will be mainly non-controversial, but lots of stuff can get tacked onto these bills. The budget bill(s) will be particularly vulnerable to stuffing with a number of Congress Critters trying one last time to get their personal favorite idea into law. This session could get very loud and very ugly, but we’ll have to pay close attention to the quiet stuff.

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