House Democrats will focus this summer on passing essential legislation, including the Water Resources Development Act, a highway reauthorization bill, and appropriations measures, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.
“My major focus at this time is getting the committees up and working” on hearings before turning to markups under the new remote work rules the chamber passed recently, Hoyer told reporters during his weekly briefing.
“There are a number of pieces of legislation” that are must-pass and have looming deadlines in the fall, including the National Defense Authorization Act, a surface transportation package, WRDA, and spending bills to keep the government open past Sept. 30, Hoyer said.
Hoyer said he plans to talk to panel chairmen soon on the schedule after this week.
More than a dozen measures are pending in committee at various stages in both the House and Senate, or yet-to-be-introduced, with panel leadership anxious to move forward on the work they started before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted legislative operations. In early May, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced two major water infrastructure bills (S. 3591 and (S. 3590) that are awaiting floor action.
Congress aims to consider WRDA bills every two years. The bills authorize hundreds of water supply, flood control, navigation, and environmental projects.
Despite objections from Republicans, the House voted earlier to allowing its members to cast committee and floor votes from afar. After committees hold some official hearings under the new remote rules, the chamber will proceed to conducting markups, Hoyer said.
“That will dictate what we decide will be our general [House] schedule going forward,” the majority leader said.
Hoyer said the focus on must-pass legislation “does not preclude committee doing vigorous oversight” and also doesn’t preclude so-called “message bills” coming to the floor that have little chance in the Republican-controlled Senate.
He added that Democrats will “process legislation that we think ought to be adopted, and if somebody calls them message bills, so be it.”
House committee leaders, including Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), are eager to score valuable floor time for their priorities in the coming weeks and months.
Grijalva said he has several pieces of legislation “ready to go” that affect Indian country, mining, wildlife, and other measures the panel already has voted on.
“We’ve been a very busy committee, and there’s no reason why we can’t get busy again,” the Arizona Democrat said in an interview last week.
He also said bills that would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and fix the country’s ailing parks could ultimately be rolled into an infrastructure package.
“I think they are both good candidates for that, and we’ve brought that up” with leadership, Grijalva said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week the chamber would vote in June on the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422), which combines the LWCF and parks maintenance backlog bill.
Grijalva also did not rule out exercising his subpoena authority over agencies like Interior, which the panel granted him earlier this year over Republican objections.
Grijalva said he plans to conduct oversight on the administration’s actions regarding opening national parks, as well as rules and policies affecting the environment that it has issued during the pandemic. “I don’t have a timeline right now” for issuing subpoenas for more information, he said.
Grijalva said one area in particular he planned to dig into is the coronavirus relief funding allocated to for-profit Alaska Native corporations in the CARES Act.
“That’s an oversight hearing for sure, and potentially a subpoena for sure,” he said.