Washington, D.C.—A long-sought trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure deal cleared its first procedural hurdle in the Senate, where it still faces significant challenges before winning final approval.
By a vote of 67 to 32, seven more than needed, senators began the legislative process to consider H.R. 3684, the House bill chosen to be used as the vehicle.
A White House fact sheet stated the deal “invests $17 billion in port infrastructure.”
That is $1 billion more than the $16 billion announced for ports and waterways weeks ago, when the bipartisan group of senators and President Joe Biden first thought they had an agreement, only to see it delayed.
Immediately after the successful vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) repeated the legislative approach he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) laid out previously.
That calls for a two-track strategy to have both the bipartisan “brick-and-mortar” infrastructure bill and a much larger soft or human infrastructure measure passed by the Senate in July, before senators head home for their traditional August break.
While the traditional infrastructure bill would be passed by a supermajority of at least 60 votes, the second measure would be sent to the House with only Democratic votes under a budget process that requires a simple majority.
Vice President Kamala Harris would break the expected tie in the current 50-50 Senate.
`Pelosi also repeated her commitment to not putting the bipartisan bill on the House floor until the Senate also has passed the larger package, that now is expected to total $3.5 trillion.
If it gets out of the Senate, the bipartisan package is expected to face another set of challenges in the House, even from Democrats.
Schumer and Pelosi’s legislative strategy, and the way the bipartisan framework was negotiated outside the regular committee order and the lack of legislative text for both measures, continue to cause concern among Senate Republicans.
Still, in what was viewed as an important development, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted for the procedural motion along with a number of other Republicans not involved in the bipartisan negotiations.
Even some who voted against the procedural motion held out hope for a successful ending.
“I still want to get to a yes vote if possible,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has been a major player on transportation legislation for years.
Biden praised the bipartisan deal in historic terms.
“As we did with the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway, we will once again transform America and propel us into the future,” the president said.
WRDA Work Begins
A key Senate committee kicked off its work on the next biennial Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) by holding a hearing that focused on the constant backlog of projects and other challenges facing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, used his opening statement to put the spotlight on “small, worthwhile, but often overlooked projects and the magnifying problems associated with changing climate.”
Carper again blamed the benefit-to-cost ratio process that he said ignores the regional and local economic benefits of such projects, making it impossible for them to “make the cut.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the panel’s ranking member, agreed the next WRDA bill should deliver projects in communities that need them while meeting national priorities.
She also wants to address the Corps’ decision-making process, which is perceived as a “black box” by non-federal sponsors without the requisite expertise or experience as well as some members of Congress.
Congress should continue to encourage assistance from the Corps to communities and non-federal sponsors, Capito said.
Supply Chain Recommendations
The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) received eight interim recommendations to address ongoing port and supply chain congestion, including those that would beef up and broaden laws against retaliation targeting those who file complaints.
“There is reason to believe that shippers, their agents and their contractors are disinclined to file private party complaints or provide information to Commission investigators due to fears of retaliation,” stated a report delivered to the FMC.
Under one interim recommendation, the FMC would be authorized to order double reparations for violations of the law.
Commissioner Rebecca Dye provided the interim recommendations that grew out of the Dye-led Fact Finding 29 dealing with the effects of the pandemic.
During the public part of its meeting, the FMC also received reports on refunds for canceled cruise ship voyages and Commissioner Carl Bentzel’s examination of container and chassis manufacturing.
In closed session, the FMC received an update on an investigation into conditions created by Canadian ballast water regulations in the U.S./Canada Great Lakes trade.
WRDA 2020 Rulemaking
Three sections of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 may require additional rulemaking, according to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
Those three sections were identified as 105, construction of water resources development projects by non-federal interests; 110, implementation of water resources principles and requirements; and 134, the non-federal project implementation pilot program.
An update on implementation of the law also singled out three other sections that may require action under the Paperwork Reduction Act.
“Schedules to complete these six sections are being developed,” the update stated.
It also revealed that 32 of the law’s 170 sections need clarity to aid in the execution of the sections.
Those sections cover areas such as authorization of appropriations for navigation, beneficial use of dredged material and the inland waterways pilot program.
For additional information, contact Gib Owen at 571-274-1929.