Washington, D.C.—Keeping its lead on fiscal year 2020 appropriations, the U.S. House voted 226–203 to approve a $982.8 billion “minibus” bill that includes $7.36 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
H.R. 2740 makes full use of the estimated receipts for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund projects receive $1.697 billion, which is $147 million above current fiscal year’s level and $100 million over the target set by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.
With a $357 million boost over fiscal year 2019 funding for the Corps, the bill provides $135 million for Investigations, a $10 million boost; $2.34 billion for Construction, a $154 million increase; and $3.92 billion for Operation and Maintenance, $183.5 million over the 2019 level.
It also provides for six new study starts and six new construction projects.
Democrats praised the bill for not only providing robust funding for much-needed programs but rejecting the Trump’s proposed slashing and outright elimination of critical programs.
Republicans unanimously opposed the bill, pointing out it has become too partisan to ever be signed into law by President Donald Trump.
Passed largely along party lines with seven Democrats breaking with their party to vote no, the bill also includes funding for other defense programs, education, energy, labor and health and human services.
House leaders immediately began floor action on the chamber’s second minibus that includes funding for the Maritime Administration and other agencies.
Bipartisan Budget Talks
Bipartisan budget talks, disrupted for weeks, took a positive turn at a meeting between congressional leaders and White House officials, according to top Democrats.
“While we did not reach an agreement, (the) conversation advanced our bipartisan discussions,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement.
Pelosi and Schumer also used their statement to reinforce their belief that lawmakers should take the lead.
“When left to their own devices, House and Senate appropriators, Democrats and Republicans working together, can get the job done,” they said.
Stakes are high.
Without an agreement that can keep the current appropriations cycle on track, the government could face another shutdown in the fall, or the unpopular prospects of remaining open under stopgap measures that severely limit changes in policy, and drastic spending cuts that are even more dreaded.
Both Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remained positive about the odds of reaching a deal the day before the talks were resumed.
As House Democrats continued to push ahead with fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, repeated her warning the government could be headed to sequestration and devastating cuts to the military.
Possibly giving tariff critics reason to cheer, President Trump tweeted that he and Chinese President Xi had talked and agreed to next meet week at the G-20 summit in Japan.
“I have a very good relationship with President Xi,” Trump told reporters later.
“I know that China wants to make a deal. They don’t like the tariffs.”
Meanwhile, the administration is hearing from a broad range of witnesses at a series of public hearings scheduled June 17–25 in Washington, D.C., by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on a proposal to levy tariffs on roughly $300 billion of Chinese products.
Tariffs on $250 billion in goods from China have already taken effect.
Witnesses include those representing the waterways industry such as ports, waterfront employees and container lessors.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer took his turn in the witness chair at hearings on the administration’s trade strategy held by the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.
Maritime Administration chief Mark Buzby blamed a lack of awareness of alternatives to rail and truck options for keeping short sea shipping from surging in the U.S.
“And quite frankly it is understanding the business case to be made that exists to move things by water,” Buzby told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.
“That takes a little digging into and understanding, especially when you are just used to throwing it in the back of a truck or throwing it on a rail car,” he said.
Buzby also assured the panel the long-awaited National Maritime Strategy will be delivered within the extended timeline set by Congress that now includes a February 13, 2020, deadline.
When pressed for a preview by Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney, Buzby said the strategy will be built on the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, the Jones Act and cargo preference.
“It is built on those things that have kept the merchant marine alive and breathing, quite frankly,” Buzby said.
“So, that’s the basis of it. I think that you will see that short sea shipping and port development and port modernization played a key role, recognizing that ports are our economic gateway into this country.”
He also identified preparing the workforce for the future as another key element of the strategy.
Members of the subcommittee also focused on concerns generated by the double taxation factor of the Harbor Maintenance Tax.
“Congress must take immediate action to end the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund’s ‘double tax,’” said Larry Willis, president, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
Currently, Willis said, the statute imposes a tax on vessel-bound imports when those goods reach their first destination. If those same goods are moved by smaller ships or barges—as opposed to rail or truck—the tax is imposed again on arrival at a secondary port, disincentivizing short sea shipping, he said.
Maloney agreed that the double taxation factor is an important issue for members of the panel.
Marine Highway Grants
The Maritime Administration announced the availability of $7 million in grants to projects previously designated by the U.S. transportation secretary under America’s Marine Highway Program that support development and expansion of documented vessels or ports and landside infrastructure.
Applications must be submitted electronically at www.grants.gov and received by 5 p.m. EDT August 15.
“Please be aware that you must complete the Grants.gov registration process before submitting your application, and that the registration process usually takes two to four weeks to complete,” MarAd stated.
“Applicants are strongly encouraged to make submissions in advance of the deadline.”
For additional information, contact Fred Jones at 202-366-1123.