House lawmakers push to use port taxes to improve US harbors

A bipartisan pair of House members are pushing to ensure funds collected from taxes on shippers are used to help maintain U.S. port facilities.

Currently, the funds that are collected by the Harbor Maintenance Tax are used to plug other holes in the federal budget.

In a letter to the head of the Army Corps of Engineers Thursday, Reps. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) and Ted Poe (R-Texas) said that had left the nation's ports in a degraded state.

"We are taxing American consumers and American businesses to ensure that our ports are fully dredged, and failing to deliver on our end of the bargain," Hahn and Poe wrote to Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy.

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"American families and businesses feel the cost of that failure twice over — when they pay the Harbor Maintenance Tax, and again when they pay the higher costs of using harbors that have not been maintained," Poe and Hahn's letter continued.

Their push comes as the Senate is beginning consideration this week of a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

The bill, (S. 601), authorizes federal investments in projects identified by the Army Corps of Engineers that could improve the U.S. system of inland waterways, including deepening ports and improving river quality.

The Senate voted on a series of amendments to the measure on Wednesday and Thursday after a skirmish between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) over an unrelated amendment that would have allowed gun owners to carry firearms into recreational areas.

Democrats have sharply criticized Coburn and other Republicans for offering unrelated amendments to the WRDA bill, which they point out represents the first movement in Congress on water resources in six years.

“I just want to lay it out here for the American people; this is a public works bill dealing with water infrastructure. … It is not a bill about guns,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of the bill's sponsors, said Wednesday. “I hope we can avert and avoid so much controversy with this bill."

Boxer and other supporters have said the water bill will create 500,000 jobs in the U.S.

Lawmakers in the House have said that they plan to introduce their version of the WRDA bill by the summer.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has expressed concern that the Senate's version of the WRDA would give too much power to the Obama administration to pick projects that will receive funding by delegating those decisions to the Army Corp. of Engineers.

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