Construction and transportation groups have been pushing for a Senate floor vote on a new water-resources bill before a long congressional recess starts on July 15. The measure's advocates are hopeful, but the chances of hitting that target look slim.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told his colleagues in a June 29 floor speech that a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is “a must-pass bill.”
The EPW committee cleared a $10.6-billion WRDA on April 28 by a 19-1 vote. It authorizes 27 new Army Corps of Engineers construction projects and also funds Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water and Clean Water programs.
Inhofe and 28 other Senate Republicans wrote to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), urging them to bring the measure to the floor before the July break. Industry officials say EPW’s top Democrat, Barbara Boxer (Calif.), also is working to move WRDA.
Many industry groups want to see WRDA move in the Senate. A collection of 87 transportation, waterways, construction and other organizations sent a letter on June 24 to McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) calling for a floor vote by July 15. “Without action, delays may continue to unnecessarily increase project costs and jeopardize the efficacy of critical flood control structures,” the groups said.
But in the short time that remains, other legislation is on the schedule, including a Federal Aviation Administration extension, diminishing WRDA’s chances of quick passage.
John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, says, “It seems to me that it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to happen before the mid-July break.”
The American Association of Port Authorities still would like to see a Senate vote soon, says Jim Walker, director of navigation policy and legislation, but he adds, “Every passing day narrows the window. “
Another industry source agrees that the Senate probably won’t take up WRDA before July 15, but cautions that “the Senate behaves in strange ways and an opening could conceivably develop.”
Donelle Harder, a spokesperson for Inhofe, said via email on July 7 that, earlier, many other important EPW-passed bills “seemed highly unlikely in the moment of trying to get initial floor time, but the chairman got each done by finding pockets of opportunity in the schedule.”
Harder added, “If that pocket of opportunity doesn’t present itself next week, then you can expect the chairman to be just as persistent to get this bill brought up in September.”
In the House, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said in an emailed statement, “One of my priorities as transportation committee chairman has been returning Congress to a two-year cycle of considering WRDA bills to help improve this critical infrastructure, and our committee will continue working to get the next WRDA done before the end of this Congress.”
Shuster’s panel on May 25 unanimously cleared a $5-billion water-resources measure, which, it says, includes authorizations for 28 new Corps projects.
Unlike the pending FAA measure—a must-pass by July 15 to avert a halt in new FAA construction grants—the last WRDA, enacted in 2014, has no fixed expiration date.
Industry officials and pro-WRDA lawmakers want to finish a new bill this year. They know that when the current Congress ends, all of its unfinished legislation dies and legislators would have to begin again on a new WRDA.