Washington Waves

Coast Guard Bill, With DQ Exemption, Passes Easily In Senate

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a Coast Guard authorization measure that key supporters said would set a framework for national ballast water discharge rules.

Passed by a vote of 94 to 6, the bill now goes back to the House for further consideration.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said Senate Bill 140 addresses the need for enforceable standards of incidental water discharges from vessels by placing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the lead role of establishing standards that the Coast Guard will enforce.

Clear rules will be the most effective way to address the spread of invasive species through ballast water discharges, Thune said.

Saying lawmakers did not settle for an easy or expedient approach, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the bill will protect waters across the country.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the bill’s balanced approach will be especially important to the Great Lakes and his state’s shipping industry.

Other highlights of the bill: new authorities on maritime drug and border enforcement and multiyear contracting for procuring national security cutters to allow for reduction in price of follow-up vessels and greater predictability for shipyards’ workforces.

Missouri’s two senators, Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill, singled out language in the bill to bring the Delta Queen, the   historic 1920s riverboat, back to the Mississippi River.

They said their legislation reinstates a decades-long exemption to allow the boat to operate from its new home port of Kimmswick in Jefferson County, which will create jobs and strengthen economic growth and tourism.

“I’m thrilled the Delta Queen is another step closer to making its way back to Missouri and once again cruising the Mississippi,” Blunt said.

McCaskill added: “We’re finally full steam ahead to get the Delta Queen back home to the St. Louis region where she belongs.”

More than 170 local jobs will be created by returning the Delta Queen to the St. Louis area, according to the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation.

The Delta Queen is expected to begin and end a number of its cruises in Kimmswick and visit more than 80 other ports in the U.S.

Congressional Leadership

Returning to the U.S. Capitol one week after crucial midterm elections, members of both chambers of Congress began the business of getting organized for the session that begins in early January.

House Republicans quickly installed their new leadership team with Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California winning his party’s nod to succeed retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as party leader.

Because Democrats will assume power in that chamber in January, McCarthy will serve as minority leader with Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana as  minority whip and Liz Cheney of Wyoming as conference chair, a post her father, former Vice President Richard Cheney, held when he served in the House.

House Democrats are not expected to hold their leadership elections for several more days.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California has launched a strong bid to become House speaker, a post she lost in 2011 after becoming the first woman to hold that office in American history.

Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland is expected to return as majority leader with James Clyburn of South Carolina as majority whip.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York will continue in their current leadership posts in the 116th Congress next year.

Cybersecurity Agency

The U.S. House gave final congressional approval to a bill creating a new agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and making it the federal government’s leader on cyber and physical infrastructure security.

Passed earlier by the Senate, H.R. 3359 was sent to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen welcomed the House action on the bill, which would create the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within her department.

“The cyber threat landscape is constantly evolving, and we need to ensure we’re properly positioned to defend America’s infrastructure from threats digital and physical,” Nielsen said.

Infrastructure Funding

A major infrastructure effort remains a favorite go-to topic for members of both parties as they express hope that divided government can work next year.

But, key officials make sure to throw in a strong dose of reality when it comes to funding such a huge effort.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross did not shy away from that point even when he spoke of the role infrastructure could play in keeping corporate earnings strong.  

“As you know, the president is very keen to have an infrastructure program,” Ross said during his appearance at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit.

“And the real—only real issue is how do you pay for it. How much does the federal government do? How much is done by private sector?”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also spoke of that challenge.

“There is no easy way to pay for infrastructure without impacting an awful lot of Americans,” McConnell told reporters.

FMC Nominations

President Donald Trump announced plans to nominate Daniel Maffei of New York and L.E. Sola of Florida to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC).

Maffei, a former member of Congress and currently a professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, previously served two years on the FMC and was picked to serve out the remainder of a five-year term that expires June 30, 2022.

Sola, currently on the Florida Board of Pilot Commissioners and on a probable-cause panel for maritime incidents, was tapped to serve the remainder of a five-year term expiring June 30, 2023.

Previously, he was a sales executive with Campers & Nicholson International and is a licensed international ship broker.

Sola was as a consultant with Arden & Price authoring studies for the Inter-American Development Bank during the U.S. handover of the Panama Canal and an adjunct professor at Florida State University-Republic of Panama.