Tea Party Republicans, Obama Back Waterway Projects Bill

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

The measure, if enacted, would be the first authorizing dredging, levee construction and port projects since 2007. The House approved it last night by 417-3. Next, lawmakers must resolve differences between it and the Senate’s legislation.

“Passage of the House bill is a critical step to getting this job-creating legislation to the president’s desk,” Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who heads the committee that wrote the Senate legislation, said in a statement. She said she wants to start negotiating a final version as soon as possible.

The bill was the first major policy legislation considered since the stalemate between Democrats and Republicans 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.

Jobs Bill

Dredging the Sabine-Neches channel, which connects one of the largest U.S. oil and natural gas ports to the Gulf of Mexico, would “enhance efficiencies of our refinery in Port Arthur, Texas,” Valero Energy Corp. spokesman Bill Day said in an e-mail earlier this month. Caterpillar Inc., Deere & Co., Maersk Inc. and industry groups for grain, apparel, iron and steel were among those who signed a U.S. Chamber of Commerce letter supporting the bill.

“Fundamentally, this bill is about jobs,” said Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, who shepherded the legislation through the House.

The measure would cap spending on, and limit the time for, required environmental reviews. It also would set up a process to revoke $12 billion previously authorized for projects now dormant.

“We’re coming off of a week where there was tense partisanship and the first substantial bill we get to vote on will be a very bipartisan bill that will help our country in terms of jobs and infrastructure,” Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Tea Party-aligned Republican, said before the vote.

Obama Support

The lesson for Congress going forward on major bills is to “find the areas you agree on and don’t overreach,” Massie said. He said Shuster was able to keep off the measure Republican-backed amendments that would have rolled back regulations on the Clean Water Act and could have sabotaged the measure with Democrats.

The White House endorsed the legislation 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.”

The House bill is H.R. 3080. The Senate bill is S. 601.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.