On September 15th, the United States Senate overwhelmingly passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (or “WRDA”), thus demonstrating again that it can overcome partisan politics to respond to the Nation’s infrastructure needs (WRDA 2014 was approved by the Senate and the House with strong support from both Republicans and Democrats). This is truly amazing and laudable, given that Congress is so divided on most matters that few other legislative initiatives have succeeded.
The Senate’s product not only authorized $5 Billion in “traditional” water infrastructure implemented by the Army Corps of Engineers (for flood control, commercial navigation and other purposes), it includes a similar amount to address a broader spectrum of water issues, such as clean water and safe drinking water improvements and addressing the serious problem of lead in drinking water. One could almost refer to the Senate product as a comprehensive water infrastructure bill rather than a WRDA as most people think of it.
The focus now shifts to the House, which has its own product that is much more aligned to a traditional WRDA (and with a correspondingly lower price tag). House T&I Committee leaders are working to get their bill to the House floor before the October recess. If they succeed, the potential for negotiation of a final House-Senate product during the anticipated lame-duck session after the elections is greatly enhanced.
While House passage would be a major accomplishment and step forward, one could argue that the most formidable task still remained: reconciling the huge differences between the bills. Not only is the Senate bill twice as expensive as the House product, it also affects the jurisdictions of multiple committees in the House, which have not had the chance to weigh in legislatively. Furthermore, it addresses matters (lead in drinking water, for example) that have not achieved consensus in the House.
The challenges are daunting, especially in a compressed, politically-charged election cycle. That said, we are guardedly optimistic that Congress will again prove that it can respond to the nation’s water infrastructure needs and pass WRDA.
Mike Strachn Senior Advisor
Before joining Dawson in 2003, Mike was Deputy Chief of Staff for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He also served as Chief, Legislative Affairs Branch and Deputy Chief, Programs Division (Civil Works) for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.