Parties Trade Blame Over Expired Pesticides Bill

Congress is set to bring up a regulatory measure that failed to hitch a ride on last week's spending legislation.

In this photo taken Oct. 5, 2014, apples are displayed at a farmers market in Arlington, Va. Lawmakers have proposed banning the use of chlorpyrifos, a widely used insecticide that is sprayed on a variety of crops including oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, broccoli, and asparagus.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Feb. 21, 2019, 8 p.m.

When it returns from recess, Congress will start the process of trying to pass several measures that expired last week. The first item on the agenda: pesticides.

The House will try to bring up a bipartisan pesticide-regulation bill in an attempt to rectify mistakes that led to the expiration of legislation authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the chemicals, according to a Democratic leadership aide.

The Pesticide Regulation Improvement Act expired Friday, along with a raft of provisions Congress neglected to take up as negotiators attempted to pass a comprehensive spending deal to avoid a shutdown. Even as negotiators heralded the spending deal, a round of partisan finger-pointing began over what was left out.

Along with the pesticides legislation, extensions of several expiring pieces of legislation, including the Violence Against Women Act and a pandemic-preparedness bill, were dropped from late-stage negotiations as congressional leaders could not agree to provide back pay for federal contractors affected by the government shutdown, a Democratic priority.

Republicans accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of holding those provisions hostage to force Republicans to negotiate on the back-pay measure. Democrats contend that all leaders agreed to an all-or-nothing approach to the negotiations, leading to the provisions expiring together.

What both sides agree on, however, is that the pesticides bill ultimately expired for a much less dramatic reason: a drafting error.

Throughout the course of the negotiations, leaders agreed that the pesticide bill would have the most immediate programmatic impact should it expire. Expiration would disrupt the EPA’s ability to register pesticides and collect fees from registrants—all as a national conversation plays out on whether the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos should be allowed.

Even as both parties see the measure as important, the language had been in dispute going back to last year. For instance, Sen. Tom Udall put a hold on the measure because he wanted stronger assurances from the EPA that it would protect farmworkers, particularly children, from harmful chemical exposure.

Udall ultimately got his assurances, and a Senate version passed last year included language codifying those worker protections. Ultimately, the measure was extended on a short-term basis without substantive legislative changes.

During negotiations last week, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Mike Conaway and other Republicans were pushing for an extension of the legislation without the worker-protection provisions. They offered that Congress should instead pass a clean extension of the bill, or even an older version that did not include the bipartisan negotiated provisions.

Republicans, however, said that this kind of horse-trading is commonplace in negotiations, and that removing the measure from the spending bill was not their idea.

“No request was made to House GOP leadership to strip PRIA from the omnibus, but you should ask Speaker Pelosi why it wasn’t included,” Conaway said in a statement. “The Speaker disagreed to previously agreed upon bipartisan provisions because she did not get her way on one of her last minute priorities [back pay for federal contractors]. She couldn’t get one thing so she eliminated a number of bipartisan provisions.”

A House Democratic aide pushed back on that characterization, saying instead that House Republicans were on an island.

“House Dems pushed for this Senate-passed language in the farm bill as well. House [Republicans] would only do a clean, short-term extension or their old version that does not have the worker protections that farmworkers need,” the aide said. “The only person in the way is Conaway.”

Late into the week, however, it became clear that House Republicans would be drowned out by the House and Senate Democrats as well as Senate Republicans, who were ready to move on the legislation they negotiated. Groups representing farmworkers, agricultural chemical companies, commodities, and other farm interests were clamoring for certainty. So on Thursday, not long after passing the spending deal that would go on to be signed by the president, the Senate passed the pesticide measure by unanimous consent.

But when the House parliamentarian looked at the measure, he deemed it unacceptable, according to Republican and Democratic aides. Instead of including new legislative language, the measure simply referred to the bipartisan measure passed last year.

The chambers will seek to redraft and pass the measure this coming week, according to a House Democratic leadership aide. It remains unclear, however, whether House Republicans will still allow it to pass without objection.

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