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Sept. 10 — Democrats and Republicans in the Senate who want to overhaul U.S. chemical law say they now have more than enough votes—by some proponents’ counts, between 80 and 85 votes—assuming they can persuade opponents to allow the bill to reach the floor.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Sept. 10 he believes the bill's chief opponent, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), will ultimately not follow through on her threat to offer “hundreds” of amendments that would prevent the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697) to be brought to a vote.
“I think Barbara realizes that some of her closest friends are supporting the bill and even co-sponsors as it is today,” Inhofe told Bloomberg BNA of the bill to revamp the Toxic Substances Control Act. “She said she was pretty upset when some of the people surprised her—Democrats—by supporting it, but I think now she realizes now this is not one she’s going to win.”
A senior Republican leadership aide and several senators told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 9 the TSCA revamp bill could be ready for Senate floor consideration following debate over President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran.
Boxer, who views the bill as detrimental to chemical safety protections, is not backing down. “I’m working to get a bill to the floor that I can support, but if I can’t—and I’m working with a whole group of senators—then we’re going to use whatever tools we have at our disposal,” she told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 10.
She added that she would continue to work with other senators to improve the proposal but warned against fast-tracking the measure this fall.
Asked what options the senator has—beyond procedural hurdles that would delay but not prevent the bill from getting to the floor—an aide said the senator would consider all options.
“Sen. Boxer is working hard to bring a TSCA bill to the floor that she can support,” said a minority spokesman with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“If it is not resolved, then Sen. Boxer and her colleagues will use the rules of the Senate to get the bill fixed,” the spokesman said.
Slowing consideration of the bill could still doom its chances in part because Republican Senate leaders are unlikely to want to spend weeks debating amendments and motions on revising chemical law, particularly with a crowded legislative agenda this fall. That to-do list includes getting a continuing resolution or other funding agreement that keeps the government open when the current funding agreement expires Sept. 30.
Supporters and opponents alike acknowledge that the Environmental Protection Agency has fallen well short of keeping up with reviews of the myriad of new chemicals brought to market and that broad changes can only be made by Congress.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), one of the bill's lead sponsors along with Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), predicted a “landslide” victory for the legislation to revamp TSCA for the first time since it became law in 1976—assuming it reaches the Senate floor.
“With over half the Senate already cosponsors of the bill, I expect to see the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act pass in a major, landslide bipartisan victory,” Vitter said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA.
That vote would be lopsided, according to several Senate aides and others tracking the legislation, with more than 80 senators ultimately voting for passage.
“I think 80 to 85 senators is the right neighborhood,” Benjamin Dunham, former chief counsel to the late New Jersey Democrat Lautenberg, told Bloomberg BNA. “It's hard to imagine Boxer being able to rally more than 20 Democrats” to her side and oppose the measure.
Inhofe declined to predict how many senators might back the Senate TSCA bill—“I don't like to raise expectations to a point where I don’t really believe in my heart that it’s going to happen,” he said—but he said 80 or 85 supporters was not “far off.” He also predicted the chamber would ultimately be able to dispose of the legislation in three legislative days.
“There’s kind of an agreement among others that we’re not going to stack it up with a bunch of amendments,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
Republican leaders are receptive to bringing the bill to overhaul the chemical law to the floor, if supporters can show they can move the measure quickly.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told Bloomberg BNA he agreed the measure would likely get significant backing, but only “if you could get [it] on the floor.”
“It’s just a function of clock management, and if it’s filibustered—which I assume it would be by Boxer or someone else”—then the measure could still never see the light of day, Thune warned.
“Even though there might be a big bipartisan [push] favoring the bill, I assume they [opponents] will try to slow walk it, delay it and all that,” he said.
Thune also said the TSCA overhaul bill “never seems to be the thing that has the most sense of urgency attached to it” signaling that it may not be a top priority, at least not yet, for Senate Republican leaders.
“But if it has got that kind of support behind it and we could find a window to do it, it’d be something we ought to” do, Thune said. “We ought to get it done.”
Many of the Republicans who have yet to publicly throw their support behind the bill, including Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Deb Fischer (Neb.), James Lankford (Okla.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), are likely to support the measure if their party leaders move to put it on the floor, the lawmakers or their offices said.
But other Republicans like Sens. Jim Risch (Idaho) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) told Bloomberg BNA they weren’t yet familiar with the bill.
Many Democrats are undecided as well, including California’s senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She, along with Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), told Bloomberg BNA they too aren’t familiar enough with the bill yet to take a position.
Other undecided Democrats, like Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), said there is little debate that the current chemical review process clearly needs revamping.
“The system’s broken,” she told Bloomberg BNA.
“Since TSCA was originally passed, we have so many more chemicals” that need reviews but aren’t getting them, she said. “So I think it does require reform.”
The Maryland Democrat also said she would like to see both sides bring down “the decibel level” in the debate and work on a compromise.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at firstname.lastname@example.org
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