Biden pushes Congress to finish $8.2B port bill

Vice President Biden pushed lawmakers on Monday to finish their work on a bill to authorize $8.2 billion in new spending for U.S. ports and waters.

Speaking at the Port of Houston after a tour of the facility, Biden said the U.S. was at risk of falling behind other countries when it came to shipping cargo at a time when other nation's were ramping up their facilities. 

“I just got back from Brazil,” Biden said. “You think they’re not investing in their ports? The rest of the world is moving.”

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The Houston port visit was part of the White House's push to nudge Congress toward finishing their negotiations on a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The House and Senate have named members of a conference committee that is expected to begin work soon on finalizing a version of the water bill that can pass muster with both chambers.

The water infrastructure measure, which would be the first such bill to be approved by Congress since 2008, does not contain actual money that would be used to pay for port improvement projects. The measure provides the authorization for the spending, and identifies the projects, but the actual funding will have to be approved later by appropriations committees.

Biden said on Monday that it was important to signal that the U.S. is not planning to stand pat on its ports and waterways, however.

“We have the most productive workers in the world," Biden said. "Our workers are three times as efficient. … We have the cheapest energy in the world." 

But he added that new businesses “will not stay [in the U.S.] if we don’t have 21st century infrastructure.”

Biden was accompanied by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on his tour of the Houston port.

Biden and Foxx are scheduled to travel on Tuesday to the Panama Canal to tour the construction of the Central American channel's expansion, which the White House has said necessitates the new funding for inland ports and waterways in America.

President Obama has also gotten in on the act of trying to use the bully pit to urge Congress to pass a water bill. The president recently visited the Port of New Orleans, also with Foxx.

The president and the transportation secretary also traveled to the Port of Jacksonville, Fla., together earlier this year.