WASHINGTON, May 13, 2015 – Republicans have their work cut out for them trying to block the Obama administration’s attempt to redefine the “waters of the United States.” The House voted 261-155 Tuesday evening to approve a bill that would kill the WOTUS rule. However, only 24 Democrats supported the bill (HR 1732), leaving it 17 short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to overcome a threatened presidential veto.
A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, but it would be difficult for Republicans to overcome a Democratic filibuster. A non-binding amendment to the Senate budget resolution received 59 votes, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, would have provided the filibuster-proof 60th vote. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill (S 1140) for next Tuesday.
But that amendment only called for limiting the reach of the Clean Water Act: It didn’t go so far as to propose killing the rule. The amendment spelled out various features that should be exempt from the anti-pollution law including isolated ponds, roadside ditches, irrigation ditches and stormwater systems.
Republicans’ best hope for stopping enforcement of the WOTUS rule continues to be the appropriations process, on the theory that it would be more difficult for the president to veto a spending bill needed to keep agencies in operation than it would be to reject a standalone measure.
But that strategy is no slam dunk either. The House earlier this month approved, 240-177, a fiscal 2016 funding bill (HR 2028) for the Army Corps of Engineers that contains a provision that would block enforcement of the WOTUS rule starting Oct. 1. Only 10 Democrats voted for the measure.
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