Denham expects House rarity: quick bill passage

Bee Washington BureauSeptember 17, 2012 

WASHINGTON -- Freshman Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, on Tuesday gets to achieve that seemingly most elusive of congressional acts, passing a meaningful bill without acrimony or gridlock.

Following what's slated to be brief debate, the House is set to routinely approve Denham's $2.2 billion bill reauthorizing dam safety and Federal Emergency Management Agency programs. Neither controversy nor opposition has arisen so far.

"It shows that there are issues on which we can come to an agreement," Denham said Monday.

For communities hit by disasters, the bill endeavors to streamline oft-criticized federal emergency assistance. It helps update an old alert system, eases debris removal and funds urban search-and-rescue task forces including the eight in California. The bill also addresses some of FEMA's prior embarrassments; for instance, by making it easier for the agency to get rid of surplus trailers made infamous in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

For Denham, the expected House approval provides an election-year success story that can be trumpeted in his campaign against Democratic challenger Jose Hernandez. Bipartisanship has currency in a district where voters straddle parties: While Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama won the newly redrawn 10th Congressional District in 2008, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman won it in 2010.

"I think voters want to see that Congress is not as dysfunctional as it seems," Denham said.

Not that either candidate is forgoing the sharp partisan edge. On Monday, the conservative American Action Network unleashed a mocking new ad attacking Hernandez; Denham, in turn, has been targeted by aggressive Democratic ads.

The task of writing and passing the FEMA reauthorization bill fell to Denham because he is chair of the House economic development, public buildings and emergency management subcommittee. Part of the larger House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the panel has previously provided Denham a platform on several high-profile issues including the investigation of lavish General Services Administration conferences.

The FEMA bill is not done yet. The Senate hasn't yet approved its version. Once it does, House and Senate negotiators must work out their differences. If they can't finish this work by the time Congress wraps up its expected post-election lame duck session in November, lawmakers must start over again next year with new bills.

Capitol Hill, moreover, is filled with sand traps. In February, for instance, the House passed a Denham bill to set up a commission for disposing of surplus federal property. A month later, the House passed a different surplus property proposal by another Republican. In the Senate, yet another version has been floated.

Earlier this summer, Obama signed into law a non-controversial Denham bill designed to make it easier for veterans to use their military training in finding civilian work. A far more contentious bill backed by Denham and other San Joaquin Valley Republicans, designed to boost water deliveries and scale back a San Joaquin River restoration program, passed the House on a largely party line vote but has gone nowhere in the Senate.

The reporter can be reached at (202) 383-0006, or on Twitter @MichaelDoyle10

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