Before the Trump administration takes office and the new Congress convenes, lawmakers have unfinished business to deal with in a lame-duck session. The main must-pass measure is a spending bill to keep most federal agencies and construction programs operating deeper into the current fiscal year. Construction and other industry officials also are pushing for Congress to finish a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in the session. But it remains to be seen whether that measure will hit the finish line by the end of December. Also in the mix is a wide-ranging energy-policy bill, now in a House-Senate conference.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Nov. 9 said a priority in the lame duck is funding the government past Dec. 9, when a stopgap lapses. It was unclear at press time how long the bill would extend. A new extension into March is one option, observers say.
A new WRDA is high on construction’s agenda. House and Senate aides have been working for weeks to reconcile the version the Senate passed on Sept. 15, which ENR estimates at more than $11 billion, and the $9-billion bill that the House approved Sept. 28. Both authorize about 30 Army Corps of Engineers flood-control, navigation and other projects. The key difference is the Senate bill’s $6 billion for drinking-water and wastewater-treatment programs. The House has a much smaller amount for drinking water, $170 million, for the Corps to upgrade water systems, such as the lead-contaminated Flint, Mich., lines.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and his staff are “still working on getting [WRDA] done by the end of the year,” spokesman Justin Harclerode said on Nov. 10. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) “remains committed to passing WRDA,” committee spokeswoman Daisy Letendre said on Nov. 12.
Jim Walker, American Association of Port Authorities director of navigation policy and legislation, said WRDA is “legacy legislation” for Shuster, Inhofe—whose term as chairman ends this year—and the Senate panel’s top Democrat, Barbara Boxer (Calif.), who is retiring. “They really want to see this passed,” Walker says. “I’m optimistic that this will happen in this lame-duck session. We’ll see.”
The energy bill looks like a longer shot. Andrew Goldberg, American Institute of Architects managing director for government relations and outreach, says, “Right now, there are no incentives for Republicans to try to move a lot of legislation since, come Jan. 20, they are going to have a Republican president.” Putting off energy legislation until 2017 would let the GOP produce a bill more like the House-passed version, which favors oil and gas interests more than the Senate bill does.