The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5303 the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 late yesterday afternoon by a vote of 399-25. The $11.5 billion bill authorizes over three dozen Army Corps of Engineers flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects and studies across the country. In addition to the base text reported out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee nearly 40 amendments were added to the bill on the House floor. The final amendment to the bill authorizes $170 million in aid for Flint, Michigan to assist with the drinking water crisis.
For months Congress has been struggling with how to respond to the drinking water issue in Flint. At one point earlier this week, democrats were prepared to shut down the government unless the Flint issue was resolved. Around midnight Tuesday, leaders agreed to address Flint in the House WRDA bill, which cleared the way for both short term government spending bill and gave WRDA the votes necessary to pass.
Prior to the Flint amendment, democrats threatened to block the bill because another provision requiring funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to be spent every year was stripped out last minute. Democrats led by T&I Ranking Member Peter Defazio (D-OR) wanted to ensure the HMTF was used to the fullest extent each year, whereas now its funds are subject to an unpredictable annual appropriations process.
The House WRDA bill is much narrower than the version passed in the Senate two weeks ago by a vote of 95-3. The Senate bill includes a similar list of Army Corps projects, $220 million for Flint and an entirely separate title dedicated to improving the nations drinking water and clean water infrastructure. The additional water infrastructure programs will be the subject of intense the negotiations between Senate and House staff while Congress is home campaigning prior to the November election.
When congress returns for the lame duck session in December, the hope is there will be agreement on a WRDA bill that both chambers can easily pass and send to the President’s desk. Congress has committed to passing a WRDA bill every two years, with the last one passing in 2014. Prior to that WRDA bills passed in 2007 and 2000.