WRDA Headed to Senate for Vote

If passed, conference committee will need to settle differences. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: Jul 18, 2006

The Water Resources Development Act is finally heading to the Senate floor this week. Late this afternoon the Senate is scheduled to begin debate on Water Resources Development Act, and wrap up debate Wednesday.

WRDA authorizes the construction of seven new 1,200-foot locks and an expansive ecosystem restoration program for the Mississippi River basin area. The bill also includes immediate implementation of small-scale measures, such as guide-wall extensions and helper boats, to help alleviate congestion.

In committee, Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced several amendments calling for Corps of Engineers reform. National Corn Growers Association agricultural grassroots efforts are urging growers to contact their senators to vote against the Feingold/McCain amendments.

NCGA President Gerald Tumbleson says the McCain-Feingold Corps of Engineers reform amendments strangle projects crucial to maintaining a robust water resources program - including modernization on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River system - by imposing redundant bureaucratic layers that go far beyond true reform. 

"We respectfully disagree with Senators McCain and Feingold on their philosophy toward national waterways policy," Tumbleson states. "We believe their amendments would thwart modernization of our nation's infrastructure and put us at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace."

NCGA has put together talking points to distinguish the differences between the Feingold/McCain approach to alternative amendments being offered by Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., "that provide a sensible and workable solution on project prioritization and independent peer review," NCGA says. Read more about the Corps reform amendments by clicking on NCGA's Talking Points of Corps Reform.

Future steps if Senate passes WRDA

WRDA's largest obstacle was finding room in the Senate's already packed legislative schedule. Nearly 80 senators have signed a letter in support of bringing WRDA to the floor for a vote. The House overwhelming passed its WRDA bill last July by a 406-14 vote, but its bill did not address Corps reform. The final bill out of the Senate will need to go to conference to settle differences between the two houses' bills.

NCGA Director of Public Policy Lisa Kelley says it would be great if conferees from each chamber could be named before senators leave for their August break next Friday. She explains conversations out of the Senate are saying senators want to finish mid - to two-thirds of the way through September for final election campaigning. "We're going to encourage the House and Senate to appoint conferees as soon as possible so staff can start working on it over the August recess," she says.

Congress is looking at a lame-duck session, meaning members will return after the November elections and into December to finalize any outstanding legislation. Kelley says she wouldn't be surprised if final WRDA legislation doesn't make it to the respective floors until then. However, there is still a small chance for a final vote prior to leaving in September.