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Obama Sides With Tea Party as House Passes Dredging Bill

The U.S. House approved 23 commercial navigation, flood control and environmental restoration projects, work that could cost taxpayers as much as $8.2 billion over the next decade.

The vote for the measure, H.R. 3080, was 417-3. If enacted, it would be the first law authorizing dredging, levee construction and port projects since 2007.

The bill was the first major policy legislation considered since the partisan stalemate that shut down the federal government for more than two weeks.

“This is how we ought to work,” Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said on the floor.

Large commercial projects that would be authorized under the legislation include dredging the Sabine-Neches Waterway, a major oil and natural gas refining area on the Texas-Louisiana border, and deepening Savannah Harbor in Georgia.

The measure won the votes of both Democrats and Tea Party-backed Republicans, who were targeted by shipping industry groups in a months-long advocacy campaign that focused on the Constitution and the importance of interstate commerce.

“It’s been persuasive,” Georgia Republican Jack Kingston said in an interview. “It’s not some backroom sudden concept.”

The measure would cap spending on the waterway projects and limit the amount of time that could be spent on required environmental reviews. It also would set up a process to revoke $12 billion previously authorized for projects now dormant.

Obama Support

The White House endorsed the bill in a statement of administration policy, though it pointed out parts of the bill it wants to be changed.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have repeatedly toured ports calling for passage of waterway infrastructure legislation to boost U.S. exports.

“In a couple of years, new supertankers are going to start coming through the Panama Canal,” Obama said in a July tour of Jacksonville Port on the Atlantic coast of Florida. “If we want our workers and businesses to compete, then our ports have to be ready to receive those supertankers. Otherwise, they’ll go to Brazil or some other place.”

Lawmakers next will seek to merge the bill with a version that the Senate passed in May, S. 601.

To contact the reporter on this story: Derek Wallbank in Washington at dwallbank@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo5@bloomberg.net

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