What’s Next in the Fight Over the Obama Administration’s Waters Rule

For the first-time since Republicans took back control of the Senate last year, the chamber held up-down votes this week on measures that would force the Obama administration back to square one on a major environmental regulation. The Capitol building.

The chamber backed a measure (S.J. Res. 22) that would immediately nullify the waters of the U.S. rule but failed to clear a procedural hurdle on a separate measure (S. 1140) that would force a rewrite of the regulation with specific instructions. 

And yet, “We've just begun to fight,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told Bloomberg BNA yesterday. 

Here’s what next in the fight over the controversial waters rule. 

  1. Congress Will Force Obama to Veto the Resolution Nullifying the Rule: Shortly after the Senate action yesterday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Bloomberg BNA in a statement that his chamber would take up the resolution nullifying the rule in “coming weeks.” That’s a necessary step to getting it to Obama’s desk, where the president would veto the measure. Both chambers of Congress appear to lack the votes to override that veto.
  2. Standalone Bill Could Be Brought Back: Inhofe floated this idea to Bloomberg BNA. He and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), are irked a bloc of 11 Democratic and Independent senators did not support the bill but instead sent a letter to the administration reserving the right to support legislative efforts in the future. Inhofe called that position “indefensible,” while Barrasso said the senators had been “either pressured or bullied” to vote against his bill. Tweaking the bill and bringing it up for a vote again would put further pressure on that bloc of senators. 
  3. A Policy Rider Is Possible: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chamber’s second-highest Republican, told reporters a policy rider addressing the waters of the U.S. rule would be a good candidate for inclusion in appropriations legislation. Several senators have previously expressed support for that idea.