Washington Waves
Washington Waves

With Election Over, Appropriations Process Resumes

Washington, D.C.—In a bid to jump-start a stalled funding process, the Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee has released all 12 of its annual spending bills for fiscal year 2021.

Democrats welcomed the move back toward regular order but pointed out that key differences that helped derail the committee’s process earlier this year remain unresolved.

In addition to those differences, the House approved minibus appropriations bills that included billions in emergency funding above the annual funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies, which drew a veto threat from the White House.

Still, congressional leaders from both chambers and parties say they want an omnibus funding bill to replace the stopgap measure that expires December 11.

“I think both sides think it would be better to do an omnibus appropriations bill before the end of the year,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also has said Congress is committed to passing an omnibus appropriations bill during the lame duck session.

Under the Senate committee’s bill, the Corps would receive $7.72 billion for fiscal year 2021, a $72 million boost.

The House-approved version would provide $7.63 billion for the Corps.

Other provisions highlighted by the Senate committee would meet for the seventh consecutive year spending targets in the 2014 Water Resources Development Act for appropriations from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and make full use of the estimated annual revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, again for the seventh consecutive year.

The Maritime Administration would receive $1.1 billion from the Senate bill compared to $1.2 billion in the House-approved measure.

Relief Package Pessimism

Post-election comments from top congressional leaders did not offer much hope for those still counting on future government relief from the ongoing pandemic.

“It seems to me that snag that held us up for months is still there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, referring to differences on the size and scope of a relief package.

Despite acknowledging “significant economic problems,” McConnell again promoted a “highly targeted” package similar to the proposal he put on the floor in October. That package came to about $500 billion.

“I don’t think the current situation demands a multi-trillion-dollar package,” McConnell said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has been pushing a package of roughly $2 trillion, expressed no interest in going small.

“No, it doesn’t appeal to me at all because they still have not agreed to crush the virus,” Pelosi told reporters at a separate press event.

“If you don’t crush the virus, we’re still going to have to be dealing with the consequences of the virus.”

Senate Control

With the Republican incumbent projected to win the U.S. Senate race in Alaska, control of the upper chamber could be decided by two runoff elections in Georgia.

Sen. Dan Sullivan’s expected victory in Alaska will give Republicans 50 seats in the Senate.

Runoff wins in January for Georgia Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler would give their party 52 votes and control of the Senate.

Losses in both of those races would leave that chamber evenly divided and give Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the crucial power to break ties.

Meanwhile, Democrats surprisingly lost seats in the House but will remain in control of that chamber even with several races yet to be decided.

Infrastructure Hopes

Even while noting a lack of success in the current Congress, the top Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee see a path forward next year on addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs.

Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has pinned his hopes on a new administration led by President-elect Joe Biden.

Calling Biden “Amtrak Joe” in an obvious reference to the president-elect’s years of train travel between Washington and his home in Delaware, DeFazio said Biden’s plan to “Build Back Better” will move the nation’s infrastructure into the 21st century.

“I can’t wait to get started,” he said in a statement.

In an op-ed published in The Hill newspaper, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the panel’s ranking member, said Republicans will be prepared to work across the aisle to address infrastructure in the new Congress.

Graves focused on a long-term “highway bill” in the article published several days before the election.

“In the 117th Congress, this bill remains a top priority,” he wrote.

COVID Testing For Mariners

The Committee on Marine Transportation System (CMTS) has scheduled a working group webinar November 18 on COVID-19 testing strategies for U.S. merchant mariners.

Set to begin at 2 p.m. EST, the event is expected to include remarks by Administrator Mark Buzby of the Maritime Administration and Mike Emerson, director of the Marine Transportation System.

Topics will include background data regarding the COVID-19 pandemic; workplace prevention and control strategies; types, availability, and reliability of COVID-19 testing for merchant mariners; recommendations from the Centers  for Disease Control for merchant mariners; and preventive measures for ship operators and mariners.

For additional information and instructions on connecting to the webinar, go to www.cmts.gov or contact WG19@CMTS.GOV.

COVID-19 Reference Catalogs

The Committee on the Marine Transportation System COVID-19 Work Group (C-19 WG) has published three reference catalogs to assist U.S. merchant mariners and the Marine Transportation System (MTS) during the pandemic.

They are the “Catalog of COVID-19 Federal Guidance and References for the U.S. Maritime Industry,” “Catalog of COVID-19 Best Management Practices for the U.S. Maritime Industry” and “Catalog of Mental Health Resources for U.S. Merchant Mariners and Critical Workforce in the Marine Transportation System.”

Rear Adm. Richard Timme, assistant Coast Guard commandant for prevention policy and chairman of the CMTS Coordinating Board, and Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby led the formation of the C-19 WG to provide a forum for enhanced interagency collaboration and joint initiatives to support the MTS during the pandemic.

For additional details on the documents, visit  www.cmts.gov/topics/working_group.

Seaway Board Meeting

The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Advisory Board is scheduled to meet November 17 and February 9 via conference calls.

Open to the public, both meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. EST.

Requests to attend or to speak at the meeting November 17 must be received by November 2 and by January 25 for the February 9 session.

For additional information, contact Carrie Lavigne at 315-764-3231.

Commercial Diving Standards

The Coast Guard announced availability of a policy letter providing guidance on acceptance of certain industry-recognized standards for commercial diving operations providing a level of safety equivalent to requirements in regulations.

Applicable October 28, CG–OES Policy Letter 02–20, Commercial Diving Operations—Equivalent Levels of Safety, is available at https://www.uscg.mil/guidance.

For additional information, contact Ken Smith at 202-372-1413.