Rep. Shuster wary of Senate approach to waterways bill

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In the same speech, however, he lamented the inability of lawmakers to make the picks themselves because of the ban on earmarks that were enacted by Republicans when they took control of the House in 2011.  

“One problem that we face is we have a moratorium on earmarks, so naming a project in a bill is not going to be allowed,” he said.

Shuster said House lawmakers may not have a choice in going along with the Senate’s approach of relying on the Corp of Engineers “if we can’t figure out a way to … figure out a criteria.

“Sen. [Barbara] Boxer [D-Calif.] believes she’s done that,” Shuster said. “We’ve started to look at it and I’m not sure. She’s put something forward, but it gives more authority to the executive branch.”

Shuster said he was letting members of his committee know “if we do something similar that she has ... the Congress will once again give up it’s constitutional authority to the executive branch and we’ll never get it back.

“When I see myself and my colleagues standing on the House floor complaining about the EPA, Corp of Engineers, all these other agencies, we’ve given them the authority to do that,” he said.

The last WRDA bill was similarly controversial. The measure was approved in 2007 after lawmakers overrode a veto from former President George W. Bush.

The waterways bill is the latest in a series of transportation bills supporters have said have been impacted by the House ban on earmarks, following appropriations bills for the Federal Aviation Administration and surface transportation projects in 2012.

The measure only contains the authorization for expenditures on waterways. The funding itself will have to be approved by the congressional appropriations committees.

In a conference call on Tuesday, Boxer said the Senate would move forward with its version of the WRDA bill by April or May.

“It’s good for jobs, good for economic growth, good for flood control, good all around,” Boxer said of the bill.

The ranking Republican of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), applauded the fact that the Senate’s version of the bill (S. 601) is being crafted without earmarks.

“This touches a lot of areas, but there are no earmarks in the bill,” Vitter said.

In his speech to the water industry officials, Shuster agreed that passing the waterways bill was important.

“It’s highest priority we have right now, it’s going to be the first bill out,” Shuster said, adding that he felt he had a “duty” to go to conference on the measure with the Senate.

“We don’t agree on a lot of things, but we both agree that WRDA is an important piece of legislation and we need to move forward with it,” Shuster said of his counterpart in the Senate, Boxer.