Boxer urges Senate to send $12.3B water bill to Obama

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) pushed her fellow senators on Wednesday to vote to approve a $12.3 billion bill to boost U.S. ports and waterways so it can be sent to President Obama. 

The House passed the bipartisan bill, known as the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), on a 412-4 vote. 

Boxer said she hoped the water infrastructure funding package would pass by a similarly-wide margin in the upper chamber. 

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“I am so pleased that the bipartisan conference agreement on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) is before the Senate today following yesterday’s overwhelming and bipartisan approval in the House of Representatives by a vote of 412-4,” she said in a speech on the Senate floor. 

“This is a bill that rises above partisan politics,” Boxer continued. “I am glad that we will consider it expeditiously so we can quickly send it to the president for signature.” 

If the bill is sent to Obama and he signs it, it will be the first water funding legislation to become law since 2007. 

The measure 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. 

Boxer said Wednesday that the water bill “will allow construction of vital port projects across the country.

“The conference agreement makes important investments and reforms related to our nation’s ports and waterways, which moved over 2.3 billion tons of goods in 2012,” she said. 

She added that the bill that was approved on Tuesday by the House “cost roughly the same as the Senate-passed bill and well below the last WRDA bill that was passed in 2007.”

The 2007 water bill was a $23 billion measure.  

Boxer said it was time for her colleagues to “ to show the American people that we can come together and pass this bill, which has the support of a broad and diverse group of stakeholders, including the AFL-CIO, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Nature Conservancy, the Farm Bureau, and the American Association of Port Authorities.

“The last WRDA bill became law in 2007, and it is past time for a new authorization bill to invest in the nation’s water infrastructure,” she said. “I urge all my colleagues to support this important legislation.” 

The Senate is expected to hold a final vote on the water funding legislation on Thursday afternoon.