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Congressman Doug LaMalfa

Representing the 1st District of California

House GOP, Democrats trade barbs over competing drought bills

Jul 10, 2015
In The News

Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are trading barbs over competing legislation to address drought impacts in California.

California lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are mostly talking at each other as they tout competing measures aimed at easing impacts from the state’s historic drought.

Republicans have pushed a bill to the House floor by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, which seeks to provide better access for farms and cities to water now set aside for fish under the Endangered Species Act.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, failed at attempts to amend the legislation as it passed the House Natural Resources Committee by a 23-12 vote on July 9. He has unveiled his own bill, which would set aside more than $1.3 billion for various agency projects such as groundwater recharge and cleaning up contaminated groundwater.

The two bills have been characterized as veritable wish lists from the two parties, but both sides insist their legislation has the best chance of making it through the Senate and being signed by President Obama.

“We’re certainly optimistic that some version of this — either on its own or part of a larger bill — will go to the president’s desk,” said Kevin Eastman, a spokesman for Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, a cosponsor of Valadao’s bill.

The legislation is primarily based on negotiations last year between House Republicans and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Eastman said.

“We think it’s a very balanced, even-handed approach.”

Feinstein’s office did not return a call or email from the Capital Press seeking comment about the two bills.

Valadao’s bill was expected to pass easily in the House but faces dubious odds in the Senate, where some Democrats’ support would be needed to overcome a filibuster. The bill is similar to one by Valadao the GOP-led House passed last year but couldn’t be reconciled with a Senate measure sponsored by Feinstein.

Within its 170 pages, the current bill would cut funding for a San Joaquin River salmon reclamation project that settled a lawsuit, increase operational flexibility for the Central Valley Project during droughts and cut red tape for major water storage projects.

The bill’s cosponsors are mostly Republicans, except for Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who serves on the Agriculture and Natural Resources committees. Costa said the legislation unveiled June 25 “is a comprehensive, common-sense approach that includes short- and long-term solutions” to the drought’s impacts.

So far only Democrats support Huffman’s bill, whose provisions include $500 million to the Environmental Protection Agency for water projects and $300 million more to the EPA’s Superfund for groundwater cleanup. The bill would also provide a $2,000 tax credit for homeowners to install water-capture and harvesting systems.

The cosponsors say they hope the proposals can serve as a model for future bipartisan legislation.

“There is room to work together on these issues to develop truly bipartisan legislation that involves all interested parties in an open process,” Huffman told the Natural Resources Committee. He noted that a near-unanimous California Legislature agreed last year to place the $7.5 billion water bond on the November ballot, where it passed.

“There’s some aspects of Mr. Huffman’s bill that I think California Republicans might be interested in,” Eastman said. “But by and large, simply handing out borrowed money doesn’t solve the ongoing problem, and that’s primarily what Mr. Huffman’s bill does.

“That’s the fundamental difference between what House Republicans are trying to do, which is fix a broken system, and what some Democrats are proposing, which is to simply hand out money,” he said.