It's been nearly a month since House-Senate negotiations formally opened to work out a final version of a major new water-resources bill, but after several weeks of behind-the-scenes talks, no deal is yet in sight.
The lead Senate negotiator, Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), says she thinks the talks are going "too slowly."
Asked for a comment, a House aide said in an emailed statement, "We have a different assessment of the situation, but respect the confidentiality of negotiations."
The bill, which would succeed the 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), would authorize $8 billion or more in new Army Corps of Engineers water projects and also is expected to change Corps civil-works policies, including provisions aimed at speeding up project reviews.
Boxer told me and another reporter after a Dec. 17 EPW committee hearing that in weeks of negotiating with the House, she and the Senate panel's top Republican, David Vitter (La.), "have sent many proposals over the the House side and they've been very slow to respond."
Boxer said that earlier that day, she and Vitter had received the House's first written response to Senate proposals. It dealt with one of eight issues that are under discussion by the two sides.
After receiving the House's message, Boxer said she had spoken to the top House WRDA negotiator, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), telling him she was glad to receive the response and added that that she would reply to the House proposal on Dec. 18.
Boxer wouldn't identify what the eight issues are, saying she wasn't going to negotiate in public. She and Shuster obviously are from different political parties. But Boxer says of the matters under discussion: "It's really not a partisan issue; it's a House-Senate issue."
She says she's hopeful, after receiving the House response. She also noted that the talks are moving and staffers are "exchanging paper"—sending messages back and forth. But she added that in her view, "It's moving too slowly."
There are many differences between the water resources bills that the Senate and House passed earlier this year. They include the total costs (Senate: $12.2 billion; House $8.2 billion), project authorization mechanisms and how much to increase spending on dredging projects from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
In addition, the Senate version includes a new federal loan program for Corps and Environmental Protection Agency water projects, but the House bill has no such provision.
At the WRDA conference committee's opening meeting, on Nov. 20, the tone was optimistic. But with the House already on its Christmas break and the Senate due to follow suit by Dec. 20, it's wait 'til next year for WRDA.