Negotiators from the House and Senate are getting down to work on legislation that would provide about $8.2 billion in funding for port and waterway projects.
Facing pressure from the White House, lawmakers involved in the conference committee say they are optimistic about the chances for reaching a deal that both sides can live with.
“I am confident that the same cooperative spirit that was used to advance the Water Resources bill in the House last month will be employed to get this pro-jobs measure across the finish line,” Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.), who is the top ranking Democrat on the House’s transportation panel, said in a statement after he was named to the bicameral conference.
Rahall was one of 11 Democrats and 13 Republicans tapped by the House this week to negotiate with the Senate on a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
The Senate had previously announced that it would send five Democrats and three Republicans to the negotiating sessions with the House.
Both chambers passed versions of the infrastructure measure earlier this year, and they are attempting now to iron out differences in their approaches to selecting the projects that will receive funding.
The top Republican Senate negotiator, Sen. David Vitter (La.), agreed with Rahall that lawmakers on the water bill conference committee should work in a bipartisan fashion.
“WRDA is one of the single most significant pieces of infrastructure legislation we’ve voted on this year, and I look forward to working to get a final bill that includes our Senate provisions. We have the opportunity to reform the Corps of Engineers, streamline flood protection projects, and improve our waterways and infrastructure all in one bill. This is a huge benefit for our entire country.”
The White House is pushing lawmakers to finish the bill as soon as possible.
Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx are traveling to the Port of Houston on Monday, which the White House said would allow them to “discuss the importance of investing in infrastructure to improve America’s competitiveness, strengthen the middle class, and grow our economy.”
Biden and Foxx are also going to visit the Panama Canal on Tuesday to tour an expansion there the administration says will double the capacity of ships that are coming into U.S. ports. The White House says the Panama Canal expansion necessitates the new round of spending on port deepening and other water infrastructure improvement projects.
The water bill was the first measure that was approved by the House after the two-week federal government shutdown last month.
The measure was passed in a 417-3 vote, despite opposition from some conservative groups who called attention to a provision that provides funding for a dam project in Kentucky that was dubbed the “Kentucky Kickback” when it was included in the bill to reopen the government.
Leaders in both chambers have indicated the final water bill could see a vote before the end of the year.