Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Upcoming Congressional Spending Bills That Impact The Waterways Industry

Separate fiscal year 2024 spending measures that impact the waterways industry passed both chambers of Congress, but Democrats warn only one enjoys the type of bipartisan support to make it into law.

That transportation and housing measure advanced in the Senate as part of a three-bill minibus by an overwhelming vote of 82 to 15.

It provides funding for the Maritime Administration, including the United States Merchant Marine Academy, state maritime academies, the Port Infrastructure Development Program, the Maritime Security Program and Tanker Security Fleet Program.

H.R. 4366, the minibus, also includes funding for military construction, veterans programs and agriculture.

“I’m proud to say that today the Senate becomes the first chamber in Congress to pass bipartisan, responsible bills,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

Schumer expressed hope that newly installed House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) will learn from the Senate’s success and stay away from pushing party-line funding bills loaded up with poison pill provisions and spending cuts that go against the agreement reached earlier this year. With the first spending bill passed under Johnson’s speakership, the House has made it clear it will go its own way.

It narrowly approved a 2024 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill that Republicans say prioritizes national and energy security and reins in Democrats’ wasteful spending.

H.R. 4394 includes funding for programs under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers such as construction projects on the inland waterways system, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and flood reduction activities.

Passed by a vote of 210 to 199 with only one Republican voting against it and no Democrats voting for it, H.R. 4394 went to the Senate, where Democrats will view it as a nonstarter.

It also has drawn a veto threat from the White House.

The Biden administration’s objections also range from spending levels well below those agreed to in the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) to the provision that invalidates its Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

Another Continuing Resolution?

With only the first three spending bills out of the Senate and a few more out of the House, the first major test of their leaders’ opposing views on funding the government could come by November 17.

That’s when the current stopgap measure that has kept federal agencies funded expires.

Leaders of both chambers concede another continuing resolution (CR) may be needed to avoid a shutdown as both chambers finish work on the 12 annual appropriations bills.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has said he favors a CR that would run through the middle of January. That would protect the process from the type of pressure that comes with an end-of-year rush, Johnson said.

Without being specific, he added certain conditions may have to be placed on that approach.

Coast Guard’s Arctic Plan

The Coast Guard released the Arctic Strategic Outlook Implementation Plan that includes 14 initiatives that promote safety, security and stewardship and protect sovereign rights across the Arctic while supporting the National Strategy for the Arctic Region.

“Our continued presence strengthens maritime governance and stewardship in the region and is vital to ensuring national security and economic prosperity,” Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Steve Poulin said.

With its mission in the Arctic dating back to the inaugural voyage of revenue cutters to Alaska in 1867, the Coast Guard remains the lead federal agency in the region.
“Today, the Arctic is experiencing unprecedented levels of environmental, operational and geostrategic stress requiring a collaborative approach to overtake these complex challenges,” the Coast Guard stated.

Passenger Vessel Firefighting

The Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance (CG-CVC) has published Policy Letter 23-03 to clarify its policy on implementing the interim fire safety regulations on covered small passenger vessels (CSPVs).

CG-CVC stated it issued the policy letter to offer clarification on the regulatory changes, Coast Guard authorities and interpretations after receiving several questions from the field and industry.

CSPVs are defined as a small passenger vessel, except a ferry or a fishing vessel, that has overnight accommodations for passengers or that operates on a coastwise or oceans route.

Due to expire on the effective date of the final regulations, the policy letter directs its clarifications to District Commanders, Sector Commanders and Officers in Charge, Marine Inspection (OCMI) and clarifies certain OCMI authorities. It addresses specifically means of escape, special consideration by the Officer in Charge, Marine Inspection and excursion permits for CSPVs.

Questions concerning the policy letter should be directed to the Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance via CGCVC@uscg.mil.