While gun control and a Puerto Rico debt restructuring package were the central focus of the Senate in the last 10 legislative days, momentum for bringing a major, bipartisan water resources bill to the Senate floor before summer recess is growing in the halls of Congress.
Efforts to bring S.2848 the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which first passed out of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) on April 28, made significant headway as 93 WRDA stakeholders urged action on the bill last week. This week that letter was followed by 30 Republican Senators sending a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to take up the bill.
The letter writes that WRDA “contains substantive reforms and authorizations that prepare our nation to compete in the global marketplace, strengthen protections for coastal and inland communities from disastrous floodwaters, modernize Corps policy to ensure efficient and effective project delivery, and create mechanisms to provide affordable clean water and safe drinking water infrastructure.”
The letter from Senate Republicans went on to declare that passing WRDA 2016 would be a “victory for all Americans,” and asked that the bill be brought to the floor for passage before the summer recess. It also stated that the legislation would prove Congress can effectively provide bipartisan results to citizens, and will save taxpayers $6 million over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Finally, on Wednesday morning Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) – the legislation’s main sponsor – took to the Senate floor to discuss the importance of the bill. In his speech, Sen. Inhofe discussed major port deepening projects necessary for post Panamax ships, showed pictures of busted water mains and endangered ecosystems – all issues that would be aided through this bill.
Calling WRDA a “must-pass bill,” Senator Inhofe emphasized the importance of returning to the original cycle of passing WRDA legislation once every two years. The Chairman of the Senate EPW Committee, Inhofe also praised several key provisions of the bill that would help communities meet their water resources needs while allowing them to prioritize the projects addressing the greatest public health risks. Regarding the state of America’s water infrastructure, he asserted that, “This is not a partisan problem, this is a national crisis.”
With a 91-7 vote on the 2014 WRDA bill, many expect this bill could garner and even stronger vote count. But the question isn’t about support for the legislation- it’s about timing. The Senate recesses on July 15th and many believe the best shot for bringing the bill to the floor is the week of July 11th as votes on immigration have been scheduled following the July 4th weekend.
If the Senate does in fact take up WRDA before the summer recess, focus will shift to the House, where a much smaller and more Army Corps focused bill passed unanimously out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 25.