Washington Waves: January 8, 2018

Washington, D.C.—Republican control of the U.S. Senate took a one-vote hit with the swearing-in of newly elected Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, making it a bit more difficult to move the agenda of President Donald Trump.

Officially the upper chamber’s new partisan breakdown includes 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

That 51-49 split puts Republicans nine votes shy of the 60 usually needed under Senate rules to pass significant legislation.

Jones is the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the Senate in more than 20 years, and how he will represent his conservative state and at the same time become a productive and active member of the Democratic caucus remains a big question.

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A possible answer may come soon with a vote on a budget to keep the government funded and avoid a partial shutdown.

Current funding under a stopgap measure runs out January 19.

Negotiations over what the budget for the remaining months of fiscal 2018 should cover have drawn the interest of supporters of water infrastructure projects.

Debra Calhoun, senior vice president of Waterways Council Inc. (WCI), said WCI welcomed letters from lawmakers to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney expressing strong support for sufficient funding to continue preconstruction engineering and design for the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program, which would provide navigation and environmental improvements on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

“Our inland waterways are key to U.S. competiveness in the global economy,” stated the letter signed by a bipartisan group of 10 senators.

A similar letter came from a bipartisan group of 40 House members.

Following talks on what should come after the current temporary funding measure, congressional leaders and the White House issued separate statements indicating more discussions are expected to be held.

Republicans used their statement to promote a two-year budget agreement, stressing the importance of not having critical funding held up over immigration policy.

Democrats have made a legislative solution for the so-called Dreamers—those who were brought to the U.S. as children by their undocumented parents—a top priority. They believe that effort faces a deadline in March.

Along with Jones, the Senate also welcomed a second new member when Tina Smith of Minnesota took the oath to succeed Al Franken, who resigned his seat amid sexual misconduct allegations. Smith and Franken are both Democrats.

Shuster To Retire

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), viewed as a champion of inland waterways as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has decided he will not seek re-election to Congress this year.

Instead, Shuster said in a statement he wanted to spend his last year in office focused 100 percent on passing a much-needed infrastructure bill, which the Trump administration has identified as one of its top legislative goals for 2018.

A 2018 water resources development bill also is expected from Shuster’s committee, in keeping with his own goal of passing such legislation every two years.

Mike Toohey, WCI president and CEO, described Shuster as a “dedicated champion of the inland waterways.”

Toohey credited Shuster with placing four modernization projects under construction, making possible more than $330 million in cost savings at the Olmsted project, expediting the completion of the Lower Mon project by 22 years and leading a bipartisan effort to authorize the Upper Ohio Navigation Program, a $2.1 billion effort.

Susan Monteverde, vice president-government relations of the American Association of Port Authorities, cited Shuster’s work on the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act that provided a path to full use of the Harbor Maintenance Tax after decades of underspending.

Monteverde said AAPA looks forward to working with the retiring congressman on an infrastructure bill, adding it is seeking $66 billion over 10 years for port-related infrastructure.

If Shuster had remained in Congress in 2019, Republican-enforced term limits would have forced him out of his committee chairmanship.

Jones Act ‘Scapegoated’

American Waterways Operators President and CEO Thomas Allegretti accused profiteers and the media of using Hurricane Maria to promote an agenda against the Jones Act to benefit foreign maritime corporations at the expense of American workers and national security.

“They ignored the facts,” Allegretti said in an op-ed originally published in The Maritime Executive and later posted on the AWO website to mark the end of his chairmanship of the American Maritime Partnership.

“Over the past year, the Jones Act was frequently scapegoated and targeted.”

He said the American maritime industry answered the call with the necessary capacity to deliver immediate relief to storm-battered Puerto Rico.

“I couldn’t be prouder to be part of an industry that responded the way ours did this past year,” Allegretti said as he described the resiliency of both the industry and the Jones Act.

“Our ‘Jones Act Armada’ was there before the storms hit, and we have demonstrated through our ongoing investments that we will stay there long after to meet the island’s enduring recovery needs.”

Allegretti, who served as chairman of the American Maritime Partnership from 2013 to 2017, was succeeded by Matt Woodruff of the Kirby Corporation.

Formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act was passed to enable the nation to maintain a domestic maritime industry by stating that only American ships can transport goods and passengers between U.S. ports.

It was waived by the Trump administration in 2017 following historic hurricanes that struck first the Gulf Coast and then Puerto Rico.

Critics, including those in Congress, view the act as a protectionist law that needs to be repealed.

WCI Washington Meetings

Waterways Council Inc. has scheduled its 2018 Washington meetings on February 13–15.

According to the agenda posted on the organization’s website, invitations have been extended to several key officials, including Administrator Mark Buzby of the U.S. Maritime Administration; Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.,) chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; Sen. Tammy Duckwork (D-Ill.); and DJ Gribbin, special assistant to President Trump on Infrastructure Policy.

Visits to Capitol Hill offices also are included on the schedule.

Sessions will be held at the Watergate Hotel, 2650 Virginia Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. January 20 was provided as a registration deadline at the hotel.