CBO increases water bill score to $12.3B; House vote Wednesday

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The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has increased its estimate of the cost of a bill to boost U.S. ports and waterways that is expected to receive a final vote in the House and Senate to $12.3 billion. 

The independent agency had previously estimated that the Senate’s version of the bill would have cost $5.7 billion and the House measure would have cost $3.5 billion. 

The new estimate comes hours before a likely final vote in the House, which is expected to occur early on Wednesday afternoon. 

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Despite the last-minute cost increase, transportation advocates are hoping lawmakers will vote to approve the first new federal water infrastructure funding package since 2007 this week.

The water bill identifies more than $12 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 lengthy negotiations between the chambers that lasted six months. 

The Senate's initial 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 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.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee pointed out Tuesday that the 2007 water bill contained $23.2 billion worth of spending on port and waterways.  

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