Agreement reached on $8.2B waterways bill

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Lawmakers in the House and Senate said Thursday evening that they have reached an agreement on an $8.2 billion bill to boost U.S. ports and waterways. 

A bicameral conference committee has been haggling over the bill, known as the Water Resources Development Act, for the better part of six months. 

The lead negotiators said Thursday night that they would bring their agreement to the floors of the House and Senate next week. 

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“We are proud to deliver what the American public wants and needs,” Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Reps. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.) said in a statement announcing the agreement. 

“This conference report maintains ports and navigation routes for commerce and the movement of goods, provides flood control that protects lives and property, and restores vital ecosystems to preserve our natural heritage,” the lawmakers continued. “This important measure will strengthen our Nation’s infrastructure and keep America competitive in the global marketplace.” 

The water bill identifies about $8 billion worth of new water infrastructure projects and authorizes funding for them, though the actual money will be doled out by appropriations committees. 

The House and Senate took different approaches to identifying projects that would receive the OK for Congressional funding, leading to the lengthy negotiations between the chambers. 

The Senate's version of the measure relied on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make the water project selections, but Republicans in the House argued that doing so would delegate too much responsibility for federal spending away from Congress.

If the agreement the lawmakers said Thursday that they negotiated is ultimately approved, it will be the first new water infrastructure funding package to be passed by Congress since 2007. 

Transportation advocates have long sought a new round of investments in ports and waterways, arguing that additional funding is necessary to prepare the nation’s cargo facilities for larger ships that will pass through the Panama Canal, which is currently being deepened. 

The conference committee leaders said Thursday that their agreement “will allow this signature jobs legislation to go before both the House and Senate for final passage.”