Crowded Senate Floor Complicates Fall TSCA Vote

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By Anthony Adragna

Aug. 6 — The Senate's departure for August recess left an imposing stack of must-address legislation to be handled in September, adding a wrinkle to what could be the best chance for revamping the U.S. chemical law in decades, more than a half dozen bill co-sponsors told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 5.

Competing with an overhaul of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act for floor time is a lengthy to-do list: debate over President Barack Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran, cybersecurity legislation, a long-term highway bill and funding to keep the federal government open.

Despite that crowded schedule, senators said the chemical bill (S. 697)—with 29 Republican and 23 Democratic co–sponsors—is well-positioned for a Senate vote.

“I think everybody’s concerned that our calendar is so full that it’s going to be hard to get everything done,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), one of the 52 co-sponsors, said. “But I’m optimistic that it’s enough of a priority that it will be done.”

The odds for consideration this fall of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act got a boost Aug. 6, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) named the TSCA overhaul bill as one of two specific measures ripe for chamber consideration upon its return in September.

“We are going to continue to look for things we can make progress on,” McConnell said during a press conference. The bill, named after the late New Jersey Democratic senator who was a long-time proponent of TSCA reform, “is another example of something important that enjoys bipartisan support,” the Senate leader said.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) told Bloomberg BNA in a statement there “absolutely is time in the calendar to take up TSCA reform” this fall.

“Senator McConnell has been very encouraging, and we're continuing to work with any senators who want to have a constructive contribution on improvements to our bill,” Udall said.

September Vote Not Expected 

Despite McConnell's comments, senators expressed skepticism the legislation would secure floor time before October.

“I think there’s a good chance we’ll get to TSCA soon,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), another co-sponsor, said. “I don’t know if we’ll get to it right away in September because the agenda is full. But I definitely think there’s a good shot we’ll get to it this fall.”

Attorneys closely tracking the bill agreed. Ben Dunham, former chief counsel to Lautenberg, the bill's original sponsor, said the chamber's schedule made it more likely for a later vote on TSCA, possibly in October or November.

“This bill is too important to members on both sides of the aisle—and to important business and [non-governmental organization] stakeholders—for it to fall off the Senate calendar completely,” Dunham, now with Dentons law firm, told Bloomberg BNA. “With half the Senate co-sponsoring the Lautenberg Act and almost every House member voting ‘yes' on that chamber’s bill, I’m confident we’ll have a new chemical safety law this Congress, most likely this year.”

The House approved a narrower bill (H.R. 2576) reforming TSCA June 23 by 398-1. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) was the lone no vote.

Pre-August Push Flopped 

Supporters, led by bill co-authors Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Udall, had sought floor consideration of the bill prior to the August recess.

But McConnell opted, instead, to move ahead with the highway bill and cybersecurity legislation. Neither of those efforts passed the Senate, meaning both remain for the senators' attention when they return after Labor Day.

“It just gets really, really cluttered,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of Senate Republican leadership, said of the upcoming floor schedule. “But TSCA is one of those things, [where] if you can get an agreement and both sides are cooperating, you can move it pretty quickly.”

Negotiations over a time agreement continue, as senators seek to limit the number of amendments considered and the amount of time the chamber will spend considering S. 697.

Boxer Role Key 

A key obstacle will continue to be Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who opposes the bill as an infringement on states' rights to regulate. Boxer's office previously said the California Democrat would offer “hundreds” of amendments if the Senate does not use the narrower House-passed TSCA reform bill as the starting point for debate.

Despite those threats from Boxer, senators are optimistic the overwhelming bipartisan support for the TSCA revamp will be enough to help usher it through the chamber this fall.

“Any bill can be held up by any one member,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), another member of Republican leadership and an S. 697 co-sponsor, told Bloomberg BNA. “There’s a lot to be done [by the Senate], but I’d like to get TSCA” through the Senate.

“I think we ought to be able to do that in a reasonable amount of time and I’d like to see it pass,” he said.

With assistance from Ari Natter in Washington

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com