Despite a threatened presidential veto, the House has approved a bill that would authorize $14 billion over four years in aid to state revolving funds for wastewater treatment plant construction. The bill, passed March 9 by a 303-108 vote, was praised by construction industry groups and is the first reauthorization of the Clean Water Act SRF program to clear the House since 1995.
Fights over the Davis-Bacon Act have helped block such water legislation for about a decade. But with Democrats now controlling the House, the new bill requires Davis-Bacon prevailing wages on projects financed by the revolving funds. Davis-Bacon foes tried to delete the language but lost a floor vote.
The next step for the legislation would be in the Senate, where a companion bill had yet to be introduced as of March 12.
The House bill authorizes $2 billion for SRFs in fiscal 2008 and boosts the amount by $1 billion a year, to $5 billion in 2011. The legislation was scaled back from a $20-billion, five-year version that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved on Feb. 7.
Those authorizations, however, are subject to annual appropriations, which have been far short of $2 billion. Appropriations this year are $1.08 billion, up from $887 million in 2006. President Bush has proposed cutting the program to $688 million in 2008. The Office of Management and Budget issued a veto threat for the House-passed bill. One reason was its funding levels, which OMB called “excessive” and “unrealistic in the current fiscal environment.” It also objected to the Davis-Bacon provision.
If the bill does clear Congress and Bush vetoes it, its advocates can point to the House vote margin, which was comfortably above the two-thirds majority needed for an override. The vote to drop the Davis-Bacon language was closer, 280-140 but still two-thirds of those voting.