Water bill conference schedules first meeting

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The committee that is meeting to negotiate an agreement on a $8.2 billion bill to boost U.S. ports and waterways is holding its first meeting on Wednesday, its chairwoman announced on Tuesday.

Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D-Calif.) office said the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) conference committee would hold its opening meeting Wednesday morning.

The committee consists of 24 House members and 8 Senators who are tasked with forging a bipartisan agreement on a bill authorizing the first new round of port and waterways funding since 2008.

Each chamber has passed a version of the water infrastructure bill, but the chambers took different approaches to identifying projects that would be authorized to receive the funding. The Senate's version of the bill leans heavily on the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers, but Republican leaders in the House argued the upper chamber's approach would give too much power to select projects to the Obama administration.

The White House has sought to pressure lawmakers to reach an agreement on the new water infrastructure funding bill. Vice President Joe Biden toured the Port of Houston on Monday, and he is scheduled to visit the Panama Canal on Tuesday.

Biden said after the Houston tour that Congress needed to approve the port funding because other nation's were spending money to improve their facilities.

“I just got back from Brazil,” Biden said. “You think they’re not investing in their ports?"

The White House has argued that the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is currently under construction, necessitates the boost in spending on ports so that facilities that receive ships from the Central American channel can be deepened to handle larger ships.