Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Approves WRDA: Bill Now Awaits Senate Vote

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. House approved the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 authorizing projects for the Army Corps of Engineers and supporting the critical role of inland waterways, ports, locks and dams.

In a show of just how much support WRDA enjoys, H.R. 7575 passed by voice vote on the so-called suspension calendar that is reserved for bills that face little or no opposition. It now heads to the Senate, where a committee-passed bill still waits for a floor vote.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led the bipartisan debate and noted they are continuing a years-long tradition of passing a WRDA bill every two years.

A WRDA 2020 fact sheet states the bill authorizes the construction of all pending Corps Chief’s Reports received since WRDA 2018 and 35 feasibility studies. It also directs the Corps to complete five comprehensive river basin studies for the Great Lakes, the Upper Mississippi River, the Lower Mississippi River, the Lower Missouri River Basin and the Sacramento River, and expedite completion of the 41 feasibility studies currently underway.

DeFazio also singled out language that fully unlocks the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to allow its estimated $10 billion balance to be spent on harbor maintenance needs and directs maintenance expenditures to be allocated equitably in addressing needs for large ports, the Great Lakes harbors and emerging harbors.

A summary sheet says the bill authorizes a modification to the cost share of construction of inland waterways projects from a 50-50 split to 65 percent from the general fund and 35 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund until fiscal year 2027.

Appropriations Minibus

The Democratic-controlled House approved its first minibus appropriations measure for fiscal year 2021 as Republicans continued to warn the billions in emergency funds in the spending bills will doom the entire process in the Senate.

Approved by a largely partisan vote of 224 to 189, H.R. 7608 is made up of four of the 12 annual spending bills, including the one that funds  the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In addition to the Interior-Environment title, the measure also would provide funding for State-Foreign Operations, Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. Next on the House schedule will be a six-bill minibus that includes Energy and Water Development (the Army Corps of Engineers), Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Service and General Government, Labor-HHS-Education, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development titles.

China Trade Deal

Amid escalating tensions between the United States and China over the pandemic and allegations of espionage, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed hope that both countries will comply with the Phase 1 of their trade deal.

“The Chinese Communist Party tells us that they are going to fulfil their commitments,” Pompeo told Fox News. “We have every expectation that they will. And our task will be to verify that they have done so. We hope that they do. If they do, perhaps there will be an opportunity to build on that.”

Earlier, President Donald Trump told reporters the trade deal means much less to him than it did when it was signed.

“When I made it, it was a great deal,” Trump said. He then talked about how China was setting records on their purchases of agricultural products. “They purchased more corn than any order ever, and that went on for two or three days. And soybeans and all. But it just means much less to me,” the president said.

Pompeo put those comments in perspective by citing the massive costs of the ongoing pandemic for which Trump blames China. Pompeo said it understandable why the trade deal no longer ranks first among the various issues facing the U.S. and China.

COVID-19 Relief Package

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) announced an aggressive push for the next COVID-19 relief package to include emergency funding for U.S. ports hit by “extremely negative impacts” caused by the pandemic.

In a letter to key members of the Trump administration, AAPA and a coalition of ports cited the role ports play in keeping vital goods moving to medical professionals, first responders and consumers while also experiencing significant losses as commercial cargo plummeted and passenger movements ceased. They urged the Trump administration to ask Congress to provide $1.5 billion for ports to cover COVID-related expenses ranging from cleaning and workforce retention to debt service.

Meanwhile, Senate Republican leaders put forward a “framework” on providing additional coronavirus relief, but it appears that effort has done little to resolve major differences even among their own colleagues.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) conceded his members remained divided, with some thinking another relief bill is not necessary.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a lead player in the talks, agrees key differences remain. “We’re very far apart,” Mnuchin said.
In addition to the sticking points reported earlier such as the size of a relief package and the amount for future jobless benefits, an unexpected issue surfaced involving the funding for a new FBI building, which President Donald Trump seems to be pushing only to see it bump against McConnell’s stance that items unrelated to the pandemic should be left out of the bill.

Defense Authorization Act

The Senate overwhelmingly approved its National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 86 to 14.

Leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee welcomed the passage of S.4049, singling out the inclusion of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) of 2019. DERA would be reauthorized through fiscal year 2024. The House earlier passed its version of NDAA, which includes several provisions of interest to the waterways Industry. Differences are expected to be worked out in conference.