Advocates hope water bill passage leads to more infrastructure funding

Transportation advocates are pressing Congress to pass a ports and waterways funding bill this year.

Their hope is that if the Congress can agree on the ports bill, it could move other infrastructure spending bills forward.

But the bill faces tough odds given the larger fight over funding the government, which some worry could lead to a shutdown on Oct. 1.

A House committee unanimously approved a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) this week, sparking optimism among advocates for transportation and infrastructure spending.

“We look at this as WRDA is the opening of infrastructure conversation in this Congress,” National Association of Manufacturers Policy and Government Relations Vice President Aric Newhouse said in an interview with The Hill.

“This is the opportunity for the House to really take this up and we have a great vote coming out of the Senate, a bipartisan vote,” Newhouse continued, referring to the Senate's passage of its version of the water bill in May.

"It was a stronger vote honestly than I thought it might be, because in this environment, there's more and more belief that federal spending on infrastructure is a bad thing," Newhouse continued.

The House's push to approval a water bill is its first attempt to pass a major piece of legislation since a funding bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development was pulled from consideration this summer.

Republican backers of the water bill have sought to pack the bill with regulatory reforms to win over House conservatives.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has said that the House's version of the water bill will shorten the time it takes to complete environmental studies for port and waterways projects to three years, for example.

“This WRRDA is the most policy and reform-focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades,” Shuster said this week. “Even the bill’s new name reflects the landmark reforms included; the extra “R:” in the title stands for “REFORM.”

Newhouse said he thought the reform push would be enough to mollify critics of infrastructure spending.

Newhouse added that it was going to be important for Congress to continue that spirit of bipartisanship on other transportation bills.

“Our view is WRDA, infrastructure in the highway sense, NextGen in the FAA concepts, the ports, broadband deployment, nuclear development…all that is pro-growth, pro-jobs and creates an environment that makes manufacturers more competitive,” Newhouse said.

Shuster also said he was confident the water bill (H.R. 3080) could win support from members of both parties in the House.

“We have worked together in a bipartisan way on this bill since day one,” he said during his opening remarks. “We developed this bill with input from members and stakeholders in listening sessions, roundtables, and hearings.”

The water bill does not contain specific funding for water projects. The bill merely authorizes committees with jurisdiction over port and water infrastructure to include funding in their budgets.

But lawmakers in both chambers have identified enacting a water bill for the first time since 2007 as a top transportation priority.

“For the economy’s sake, we must pay attention to our ports, to flood control, and to ecological restoration," Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFirst senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid Bass receives endorsement from EMILY's List Bass gets mayoral endorsement from former California senator MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement released after the House Transportation Committee voted to approve the water bill. “I look forward to House passage of the legislation so that we can go to conference.”

The previous water bill that was passed by Congress was approved by lawmakers over a veto from former President George W. Bush.

Both President Obama and Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxBusiness, labor groups teaming in high-speed rail push Hillicon Valley: Uber, Lyft agree to take California labor win nationwide | Zoom to implement new security program along with FTC | Virgin Hyperloop completes first test ride with passengers Uber, Lyft eager to take California labor win nationwide MORE have spoken in recent months about the importance of providing funding for ports and waterways in the U.S.