Week ahead: Ready, set, conference

The negotiators have been named for the House and Senate's upcoming conference on a new bill to boost U.S. ports and waterways.

Now comes the part that's been seemingly impossible at times in this Congress: Forging an agreement both chambers can live with.

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Lawmakers in both parties – and both chambers – have predicted they can break the recent trend of gridlock that has gripped the current very divided Congress.

“This is an excellent team of knowledgeable, thoughtful and hard-working members of Congress,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said in a statement after the conferees were named.

“I look forward to their valuable input as we work towards a fiscally responsible final measure that improves our economic competitiveness and helps promote job growth through strengthening our water resources infrastructure,” Shuster continued.

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The conference committee will be chaired by Shuster's counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). 

The water bill that is at issue includes authorizations for about $8.2 billion worth of port and waterways projects. Each chamber has passed a version of the measure earlier this year. Now, they are attempting to iron out differences in their approaches to selecting the projects that will receive the investments.

The water bill includes authorizations for a host of water infrastructure projects, including a dam project in Kentucky and Illinois that sparked controversy when it was included in the legislation passed by lawmakers to end the government shutdown last month.

The water bill has been touted an opportunity for rare bipartisanship in a badly divided Congress. The measure was the first bill approved by the House after the two-week federal government shutdown last month.

While lawmakers are possibly beginning their bicameral negotiations, the Obama administration is planning to keep up its pressure on Congress to pass a bill to boost ports and waterways. The White House announced that Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will travel to the Port of Houston on Monday after a recent visit by the duo to the Port of Charleston, S.C.

The visit follows a trip by President Obama earlier this month to the Port of New Orleans, which was also with Foxx.

Biden and Foxx are also scheduled to travel on Tuesday to the Panama Canal to tour an expansion there that transportation advocates say will double the capacity of ships that are coming into U.S. ports, necessitating the spending on deepening and other improvement projects.