Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Sends Defense, Transportation Appropriations Bill To Senate

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. House has approved a $1.3 trillion, six-bill appropriations minibus for fiscal year 2021 that includes emergency funding for the Army Corps of Engineers that helped trigger a veto threat from the White House.

Passed by nearly a party-line vote of 217 to 197, H.R. 7617 arrived in the Senate, where the appropriations process has been stalled, with little chance of restarting soon enough to avoid some kind of stopgap funding measure.

The minibus also includes funding for Transportation, Defense, Education, Housing and other agencies.

In addition to the veto threat, the White House’s Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) echoed comments from congressional Republicans that the measure blatantly violates a two-year budget agreement on spending limits and a ban on so-called poison-pill riders. It specifically targeted the billions of dollars in emergency funding House Democrats included in the different titles to help agencies deal with the ongoing pandemic.

That emergency funding for the Army Corps of Engineers would come to $17 billion to speed up projects around the country. Investigations would receive an additional $110 million for feasibility studies; construction, $10 billion; and operation and maintenance, $5 billion.

Under the bill’s annual funding provisions, the Army Corps of Engineers would receive $7.63 billion, with funding for investigations remaining the same at $151 million; construction, $2.6 billion; and operation and maintenance, $3.84 billion, an increase of $48 million. Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund projects would receive $1.68 billion, a boost of $50 million, which meets the target set for fiscal year 2021 and represents 92 percent of the estimated revenues.

Seven new study starts and seven new construction projects would be provided by the bill.

The bill provides the Maritime Administration (MarAd) $1.2 billion, an increase of $197.3 million. Of that, the Maritime Security Program would receive $314 million, a boost of $14 million with an additional $500,000 for each vessel in the program, and the Port Infrastructure Development Program would receive $300 million, an increase of $75 million.

The bill would keep funding for national infrastructure investments at $1 billion for the Department of Transportation (DOT).

An additional $26 billion in emergency funding would go to DOT programs, including $3 billion for national infrastructure investments, $125 million for MarAd operations and training, $345.5 million for state maritime academy operations, $100 million for assistance to small shipyards and $1 billion for the Port Infrastructure Development Program.

None of the emergency funding for any of the agencies is expected to survive in the Republican-controlled Senate.

For similar reasons, the White House also issued a veto threat on a four-bill minibus spending package approved earlier by the House.

With differences over a coronavirus relief package still unresolved, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) served notice that his chamber’s traditional August recess will be at least delayed.

“I’ve told Republican senators they will have a 24-hour notice before a vote,” McConnell said, adding the Senate will be in session Monday, August 10.

He noted the Democratic-controlledHouse had “already skipped town,” but that chamber’s leadership has remained in Washington and put rank-and-file members on notice they could be called back to the Capital to vote if negotiations produce a coronavirus relief package.
McConnell also took action to place directly on the legislative calendar a bill by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) to end government shutdowns and provide for an automatic stopgap spending measure if Congress fails to pass annual appropriations bills on time.
Lankford’s bill also would require lawmakers to remain in Washington and work seven days a week until they complete work on a budget.
While the House has approved 10 of its 12 annual spending bills so far, the appropriations process in the  Senate has been stalled  for weeks.

WRDA Objections

The White House expressed appreciation for the House-passed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 but laid out a number of objections and suggestions that explain what the administration wants to see in the next WRDA. Its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) did not include a threat to veto H.R. 7575, which enjoys huge bipartisan support and passed by a voice vote.

One provision that drew an outright objection from the administration would reduce the barge industry’s share of the cost of inland waterways projects from 50 percent to 35 percent.

According to the SAP, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that annual receipts from the current diesel fuel tax cover less than 10 percent of the total cost of supporting commercial navigation on the waterways.

“The administration believes beneficiaries should pay their fair share,” it stated.

To boost the amount paid by commercial navigation users of inland waterways, the SAP pushed an annual per-vessel fee.

Another objection from the White House focused on language requiring the federal agency to identify levee deficiencies, recommend repairs and develop cost estimates for up to roughly 9,000 levee systems, which the SAP warned could lead to shifting the responsibility for such work from levee owners to the federal government.

Given the “large” backlog of projects, the SAP also suggested prioritizing new project and study authorizations that mostly likely would produce high economic or environmental returns and address significant risks to public safety.

MTS Relief Act

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) welcomed Sen. Jeff Merkley’s introduction of his Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Act (MTSERA) to help ports deal with the economic havoc caused by the ongoing coronavirus crisis as well as future disasters.

“COVID-19 relief is critical for the port and maritime industry in response to challenges faced as a result of the pandemic,” AAPA President and CEO Christopher Connor said.

AAPA said Merkley’s bill would establish a first-of-its-kind comprehensive maritime emergency relief authority for the Maritime Administration to provide grants to ports.

Merkley (D-Ore.) said he will push to have MTSERA included in the coronavirus relief package that key administration officials and congressional leaders are negotiating.

“Unfortunately, our maritime industry is not immune from the economic destruction being caused by the coronavirus, spelling serious trouble for our families that rely on ports for their livelihoods,” he said.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, earlier introduced his companion bill, H.7515, in the House, where it was added to the National Defense Authorization Act.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Security, signed on as the co-sponsor of Merkley’s bill, S.4395.

MERPAC Nominations

The Coast Guard is resoliciting applications for membership on the National Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee, which advises the secretary of Homeland Security on personnel in the United States merchant marine, including training, qualifications, certification, documentation and fitness of mariners.

Applications should reach the Coast Guard by August 14.

According to the Coast Guard, an earlier request in May resulted in a lack of applications for membership positions representing credentialed ratings. Applicants who responded to the initial request do not need to reapply.

For additional information, contact Megan Johns Henry at 202-372-1255.