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California House GOP members push Senate to pass drought bill

California's drought as seen from space.
California's drought as seen from space.

House Republicans from California’s farm country are pressuring the Senate to pass Dianne Feinstein’s drought bill. But one House Democrat says there’s a reason the Senate bill appears to be stalled.

Earlier this month, the GOP-led House passed a 70-page drought relief bill; a week later, Feinstein introduced a Senate bill that doesn’t include the House language, which puts habitat restoration projects on hold and upends existing water agreements. But there is no word on what happens next. There has been no commitment from Senate leadership for a vote or even to assign it to a committee, something that has House Republicans frustrated. 

On Thursday, Central Valley Republican lawmakers met to talk about how to move drought legislation forward. House Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield called on Majority Leader Harry Reid to put the Feinstein bill on the Senate floor for a vote, saying he looks forward to finding "areas of common ground." Tulare Republican Devin Nunes called Feinstein’s bill “weak,” but said passage would allow Congress to begin negotiating a solution to “this unmitigated disaster.” Granite Bay Republican Tom McClintock doesn’t like the Senate bill either, but he wants it to pass so "we can begin the conference process without further delay.”

There’s a reason Republicans from the Central Valley are pushing Feinstein’s bill, at least according to Walnut Creek Democrat John Garamendi. He says they want the opportunity to merge some of their language into the compromise measure that would come out of a conference committee. Garamendi says that process would “probably bring into the drought bill issues that are not directly related to the drought, and probably lead to the delay or the demise of the bill.”

Garamendi prefers the House version of Feinstein’s bill, introduced by Fresno Democrat Jim Costa, which he describes as “clean.” Costa’s measure was referred to several committees with little hope of a hearing in the GOP-led House. On Friday, Costa introduced a new water infrastructure measure to speed up reservoir and other storage construction. 

Expect Central Valley lawmakers to keep up the pressure in this election year, taking the drought debate back to California. They promise to hold a field hearing and to tour areas affected by the drought to demonstrate their “commitment to educating Congress.” No date has been set for that hearing.