House passes $12.3B water projects bill

The House overwhelmingly passed a $12.3 billion water infrastructure projects bill on Tuesday after months of negotiations.

Passed 412-4, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) would authorize funding for construction and repair of waterway projects. If the Senate adopts the conference report, it would be the first federal water infrastructure authorization since 2007.

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The measure passed despite opposition from the influential conservative group Heritage Action, which urged lawmakers to vote against it. Heritage Action said that the bill "hikes spending while doing little to reduce bureaucracy and limit the role of the federal government."

But only four Republicans voted in opposition: Justin Amash of Michigan, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Matt Salmon of Arizona.

The House and Senate passed separate versions of the water resources legislation last year. Conference negotiations lasted for six months as lawmakers hashed out differences over how much authority should be granted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to select which water projects should get funding. House Republicans had argued that delegating too much authority to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would leave Congress out of the process.

Passage of the conference report is a boost for House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who faces a primary election on Tuesday.

It's also a significant victory for Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and one of the 2014 election cycle's most vulnerable Democrats.

"This legislation is a reminder — an unfortunately stark reminder — that given a chance to work together in a bipartisan fashion, we can produce results for the American people," Rahall said.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) touted the measure as an example of bipartisanship, noting that it does not include any earmarks.

"This bill will help create jobs, help strengthen our economy and it’s the first time this bill has ever been produced where there are no earmarks in this bill," Boehner said at a Tuesday press conference. "It’s a significant policy achievement."

The legislation would also end authorization for $18 billion worth of old water infrastructure projects deemed outdated by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We should be proud that this is the most fiscally responsible WRRDA in history," Shuster said.

Another provision in the bill would require lawmakers to use a majority of funds that shipping companies pay into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be used for port projects. Democrats had argued that shipping company taxes were being used to fund other parts of the federal budget.

Keith Laing contributed.

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