As we approach the last few weeks of the first session of the 118th Congress, many are beginning to review their progress on legislative and regulatory priorities. New House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has laid out an ambitious schedule for the rest of 2023, including passing more 7 appropriations bills and the Farm Bill. While completing FY24 appropriations and a debate on funding for Israel and Ukraine are likely to take up significant congressional bandwidth in the next two months, expect a last-minute push to move additional priorities. Despite the gridlock in recent months, many opportunities for bipartisan collaboration still exist; particularly in policy areas that impact rural communities. Here are some places for stakeholders to engage:
The Farm Bill – Title VI: Policies and resources that impact rural development undoubtedly run throughout every Farm Bill. But the programs and funding authorized by the rural development-specific Title VI provide immense value to rural communities. Organizations that represent the interests of these communities have significant opportunities to impact policy around, and administration of, loans, grants, and technical assistance for broadband, energy, water infrastructure, and a host of other eligible projects.
America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA) and more: House and Senate committees have been steadily considering legislation to address permitting, optimize visitation, support local and national parks, and modernize infrastructure. Outdoor recreation has been an economic boon for rural communities and lawmakers are eager for a bipartisan win in a thriving industry. Time is running out to influence what’s sure to be a comprehensive outdoor recreation package.
EDA Reauthorization: The Economic Development Administration (EDA) has been operating without congressional authorization for 16 years. High-profile funding opportunities at EDA have fueled interest in providing the agency with additional authorities and resources, particularly related to capacity building and disaster recovery. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper’s (D-DE) retirement at the end of the Congress could drive increased interest in finally reupping EDA’s authorization.
Wildfire Legislation: Last week, Senate ENR’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing to receive testimony on a slate of wildfire and public lands bills. As rural communities seek additional resources to mitigate devastating wildfires, there’s bipartisan interest in addressing many aspects of the crisis and a strong chance that congress works pass a wildfire package before the end of 2024. Note: In the same hearing, several subcommittee members, as well as representatives of the Forest Service and BLM, also voiced support for Senator Crapo’s (R-ID) bill to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program.
There’s potential for at least one of these packages to be addressed by the end of the year. For all remaining legislation, the start of a new session will drive renewed advocacy efforts right away in 2024.