Congress pressured to approve $8.2B water bill

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The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is urging lawmakers to approve a conference report on an $8.2 billion bill to boost U.S. ports and waterways.

The association issued a "key vote advisory" on Monday for the water infrastructure measure, known as the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).

The port and water funding measure is expected to come up for a vote in both chambers early as this week after a conference committee that lasted for the better part of six months.

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NAM Senior Vice President for Policy and Government Relations Aric Newhouse said in a letter to members of the House on Monday that his association was scoring the water bill vote.

"The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the largest manufacturing
association in the United States representing manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states, urges you to support the conference report Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014," the letter said.

"Our nation needs investments and a modern infrastructure that keep us globally competitive and manufacturers will continue to champion investments and improvements to our nation’s infrastructure that help manufacturers’ compete and create jobs," the letter continued. "The NAM’s Key Vote Advisory Committee has indicated that votes on H.R. 3080, including procedural motions, may be considered for designation as Key Manufacturing Votes in the 113th Congress."

Transportation advocates are pushing for lawmakers to approve the first new federal water infrastructure funding package since 2007.

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 initially 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.

Among the projects identified for funding in the final water bill agreement are long-sought projects to deepen ports such as in Jacksonville, Fla., Savannah, Ga., and Boston. Transportation advocates have warned that U.S. ports need to be expanded to be able to handle larger ships that are expected to come through the Panama Canal after the Central American channel is deepened next year.

The water bill agreement also includes a provision requiring lawmakers to use a majority of the money that is paid into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by shipping companies to be used for port projects, providing a victory for Democrats who had complained about the shippers taxes being used to fund other areas of the federal budget.

The legislation also deauthorizes $18 billion worth of old projects that had been on the Army Corps.' dockets for multiple years, giving a win to Republicans who argued that previous water infrastructure funding measures contained wasteful spending.

The funding for the port and water projects identified in the WRRDA bill will still have to be approved by appropriations in the House and Senate.