Biden pushes for port funding in Panama

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Vice President Joe Biden pushed for the passage of a $8.2 billion bill to boost U.S. ports and waterways during a trip to the Panama Canal on Tuesday.

The consequence of not doing so, Biden said, would be ships that will soon be coming through the widened Central American channel - and the goods they carry - going to other countries instead of docking in America.  

"People locate businesses and manufacturing facilities in places where they can quickly, cheaply, and responsibly get their product to market," Biden said in a joint appearance with Panama Ricardo Martinelli. 

"That only occurs if there is serious infrastructure to accommodate what the world economy is witnessing as a consequence of the Canal being widened, because when goods travel faster and cheaper, it increases commerce around the world," Biden continued.

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Biden was touring the Panama Canal on Tuesday with Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Democratic Party Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D), Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D), Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rollins-Blake (D) and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Biden said his companions were selected because they represent areas that will benefit from a boost in spending on U.S. ports.

"Your press may be asking, why am I mentioning each of their names," Biden said to Martinelli. "I mention each of their names because they are in and they lead cities that have the potential to vastly expand the economic commerce, the jobs and the economy of their states and cities as a consequence of what the Panamanian people have done."

The Panama trip is the culmination of a tour that has taken the vice president and President Obama to ports in Jacksonville, New Orleans, Charleston and Houston this year as the Obama administration tries to ramp up pressure on Congress to pass a water infrastructure funding bill.

Lawmakers are scheduled to open a conference committee on the measure, which is known as the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), on Wednesday.

The measure identifies projects that could receive funding, but the actual spending will still have to be approved by appropriations committee.

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.

Transportation advocates have largely eschewed taking sides between the two chambers' approaches. Instead, they have focused on urging Congress to pass a water appropriation for the first time since 2007.