WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators on Thursday unveiled a compromise bill that authorizes billions of dollars for water projects over the next decade, from flood protections in California to deepening Georgia’s rapidly growing Port of Savannah.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act will authorize 34 projects in virtually every region of the country. Lawmakers say it provides important investment in the nation’s water infrastructure. Lawmakers announced the tentative agreement last week but didn’t provide details.
“This legislation is about jobs and our country’s economic prosperity, and I look forward to bringing it back to the House for a final vote,” said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who filed the bill Thursday.
The measure provides $461 million for expansion of the Port of Savannah. Like other East Coast seaports, Savannah is scrambling to deepen its shipping channel to make room for supersized cargo ships expected to arrive via an expanded Panama Canal as soon as 2015.
The Obama administration has said a $459 million spending cap placed on the Savannah project in 1999 – which is $193 million below current cost estimates – must be changed before the federal government can sign a final cost-sharing agreement with Georgia officials. That agreement would allow dredging of the Savannah River channel to begin using $266 million in state funding Georgia has already set aside.
The Senate passed its version of the bill roughly a year ago, with the House following suit in October. Since then, lawmakers have been working to thrash out differences between the two bills. The Senate’s version would authorize about $12.5 billion over the next decade, while the House’s version would cost about $8.2 billion. The compromise is expected to land somewhere in between the two, but a Congressional Budget Office estimate was not yet available.
Congress would have to pass separate legislation to pay for all of the projects included in the bill.
The House is expected to vote as early as Tuesday, with the Senate following suit. Both versions of the bill easily passed previously.
With the estimated cost of the bill expected to rise, though, there is some concern that more conservative Republicans might vote against it. Outside groups, including Heritage Action, have said the bill does not do enough to rein in spending.