Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Disaster Relief Bill Blocked In House

Washington, D.C.—A long-awaited disaster relief bill that includes billions of dollars for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to respond to massive flooding overwhelmingly passed the U.S. Senate only to be stalled in the U.S. House by Republican objections to Democrats’ unanimous consent requests to fast-track the measure to President Trump’s desk.

If the objections continue, the $19.1 billion spending bill could be held up until at least the first week of June, when the House returns following its annual Memorial Day break.

H.R. 2157 passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support in an 85-8 vote.

It includes $2.483 billion to repair damage to Corps projects with $575 million of that for Mississippi River and Tributaries, $908 million for operations and maintenance and $1 billion for flood control and coastal emergencies.

Another $740 million would be available to accelerate construction of flood and storm damage reduction projects with up to $25 million for continuing authorities projects to reduce the risk of flooding and storm damage.

A study of potential projects to reduce risk from future floods and hurricanes would be funded at $35 million.

Other agencies also would receive funds to deal with 2018 and 2019 natural disasters ranging from hurricanes and wildfires to volcanic activities.

After being delayed for months mostly by partisan disagreement over how much more aid should go to Puerto Rico, the Senate vote set up what looked like an easy path for sending the bill to Trump, who was expected to sign it.

 Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) took turns objecting to unanimous consent requests, saying such a significant spending bill should require a roll call vote of the House, with Massie calling the Democrats’ approach “legislative malpractice.”

Roy also criticized the absence of funds dealing with the “crisis” at the border.

Republicans blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.) for not keeping her chamber’s members in town long enough to vote on the Senate-passed version.

Democrats heaped criticism on the two men’s objections, with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) calling it “shameful.”

If the stalling continues through the recess, Hoyer predicted the bill would pass overwhelmingly after the House returns.

MarAd Bill

A House subcommittee advanced a fiscal year 2020 spending bill to provide $1.1 billion for the Maritime Administration with $300 million of that for the Maritime Security Program, $225 million for the Port Infrastructure Development Program and $300 million for school ship construction.

Approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies by voice vote, the measure also includes $1 billion for the BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant program.

It now goes to the full House committee.

The American Association of Port Authorities welcomed the panel’s action, noting it provides funding for the nation’s only dedicated port infrastructure program.

AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle conceded the $225 million included for that program is $68 million below the current fiscal year’s level but pointed out President Trump’s budget request did not include funding for that program.

Nagle also singled out the $15 million included in the subcommittee’s mark, a first for that panel, for America’s Marine Highway Program, describing it as a “great tool for ensuring that America’s goods movement network is fully integrated with highways, railways and ports.”

He said the BUILD grant program is an essential multimodal development resource for port authorities and their business partners.

Infrastructure Deal

House Speaker Pelosi still thinks lawmakers and President Trump can reach a deal on infrastructure despite a recent White House meeting that abruptly fell apart, a war of words that erupted between herself and the president and special counsel Robert Mueller’s unexpected statement on his two-year Russia investigation that focused even more attention on an impeachment effort by House Democrats.

“I still feel optimistic,” Pelosi said during an appearance May 29 at the Commonwealth Club of California.

She recalled Trump’s previous comments about wanting to work on infrastructure.

“And I think he still does,” Pelosi said.

Last week, Trump again mentioned infrastructure as a potential goal and left the door open to working on it with Pelosi.

“I can work with the speaker. Sure,” he told reporters.

 He again made it clear, however, he thinks House Democrats must decide whether they want to legislate or investigate.

“I don’t think they’re capable of going down two tracks,” Trump said.

A more immediate test of whether the two leaders can work together could come on a two-year budget agreement to keep the current appropriations cycle on track and avoid a potential shutdown in the fall and huge budget cuts after that.

Cyber Warning

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance issued a bulletin informing the maritime industry of recent email phishing and malware intrusion attempts targeting commercial vessels.

“Cyber adversaries are attempting to gain sensitive information including the content of an official Notice of Arrival (NOA) using email addresses that pose as an official Port State Control (PSC) authority such as: port@pscgov.org,” the bulletin stated.

“Additionally, the Coast Guard has received reports of malicious software designed to disrupt shipboard computer systems.”

As a reminder, the Marine Safety Information Bulletin 04-19 added, suspicious activity and breaches of security must be reported to the National Response Center (NRC) at 800-424-8802.

Maritime Day Proclamation

President Donald Trump used his 2019 National Maritime Day proclamation to underscore the need to encourage more people to pursue career opportunities on America’s waterways and the oceans of the world.

Trump referenced the central role the U.S. Merchant Marine plays in bringing American goods to market and bolstering the U.S. military readiness abroad, and recalled the Executive Order he signed recently to help military veterans transition into civilian careers in the Merchant Marine.

“This will help support a robust, well-equipped and safe merchant fleet crewed by well-trained mariners,” the presidential proclamation stated.

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