Key House Democrats are proposing an additional $30 billion in federal funds for lead service line replacement efforts nationwide, a sum that would come in addition to $15 billion for lead service line replacements that was included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) approved by the Senate last month.
The new $30 billion lead proposal is part of the drinking water portion of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s piece of a far-reaching $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that congressional Democrats hope to produce this month. That measure, which will be immune from the Senate filibuster and therefore could pass both chambers without any Republican support, is considered by many Democrats to be an essential companion to the bipartisan IIJA that carries $550 billion in new federal spending.
The Energy and Commerce Committee will markup its reconciliation proposal today. In addition to the lead service line replacement funds, other notable aspects of the bill include:
- $500 million for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Low-Income Household Drinking Water and Wastewater Emergency Assistance Program;
- $500 million in first-time appropriations for EPA’s Drinking Water Infrastructure Risk and Resilience grant program;
- $700 million for programs to address lead in school drinking water;
- $100 million for grants to extend drinking water service to underserved communities affected by natural disasters; and
- $100 million for grants to support contaminant monitoring.
The House plan would distribute the $30 billion in lead funds through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), the same mechanism used by IIJA to disburse its $15 billion lead service line expenditure. But that approach could pose problems in the Senate, where an informal agreement among the architects of IIJA holds that the reconciliation bill should not provide additional funding to any program that is in line for appropriations through IIJA. As a result, the Senate is unlikely to agree to a reconciliation package that includes any additional lead service line replacement funds routed through the DWSRF.
Congressional staff say that Democratic House and Senate negotiators are already discussing the bounds of a compromise reconciliation package that would satisfy the demands of the IIJA authors. These negotiations are likely to replace the Energy and Commerce Committee’s DWSRF-based lead service line funds with a more modest appropriation delivered through a different mechanism, such as EPA’s Reducing Lead in Drinking Water grant program. The House-Senate negotiations could also reduce the total reconciliation package to a dollar amount that is somewhat less than $3.5 trillion, though any steep cuts could result in pushback from House progressives.
Various Senate committees are also expected to release their reconciliation proposals this week, offering more insight into the potential scope of the final legislation. The timing for House and Senate floor votes on the reconciliation package is unclear, but the House remains scheduled to vote on the Senate-approved IIJA (and its $15 billion in DWSRF-based lead service line funds) no later than September 27.