Yesterday the House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016 by a vote of 399-25. The Senate passed its version of WRDA on September 15. The House and the Senate now need to meet via conference to reconcile the differences between the two versions. It is expected that Congress will entertain and pass the conference report during a lame duck session following the November election.
The Senate did pass their version a couple weeks ago. The Soy Transportation Coalition is appreciative that Congress provided such a strong expression of support for helping to address the profound needs of our nation’s inland waterway system. Given the increased acrimony in Washington, DC, exacerbated by the impending election, there has been widespread pessimism that Congress this year would achieve a robust portfolio of work important to the American people. However, it has been hopeful that the passage of a WRDA bill would be one area that could achieve bipartisan support.
They are pleased that Congress appears to be getting back to passing a WRDA bill every two years. One of the challenges confronting the inland waterway system and barge transportation is that it is largely out of sight and therefore out of mind for many policymakers. A high percentage of lawmakers do not represent districts that witness barge transportation. As a result, the more time that elapses between one WRDA bill and the next, the more Herculean it becomes to educate and persuade lawmakers to devote attention to the needs of the inland waterway system.
There are two legislative steps for Congress to address inland waterway issues: 1.) The authorization step, which a WRDA bill is, and 2.) The appropriations step, which is under the jurisdiction of the respective appropriations committees in the House and Senate. The authorization step essentially provides the strategy or road map for action. A list of prioritized projects and initiatives will commonly be included in a WRDA bill. The appropriations step provides the funding to implement the strategy or road map. Both steps are essential. The tradition breakdown in Congress has been the appropriations process not providing sufficient funding to fulfill that objectives prescribed in the WRDA bill. As a result, the passage of a WRDA bill is appreciated, but it is not the finish line. We need to continue to advocate for this issue throughout the appropriations process.