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Water Resources Development Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT ACT

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I applaud the Senator from California, Ms. BOXER, for her leadership and hard work in passing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) conference report yesterday. Had I been in Washington, DC, yesterday, I would have enthusiastically voted for the conference report on final passage.

Typically these critical water infrastructure authorizations are enacted by Congress every two years. For almost eight years, however, these priorities have languished under the watch of the previous Senate leadership. At the beginning of the 110th Congress in January, when the Senator from California became Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, she pledged that the Water Resources Development Act would be completed by the Senate in a timely fashion. She kept that pledge, and I applaud her commitment.

By comparison, during the 109th Congress, those of us who supported swift enactment of this bill encountered considerable obstacles. As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I was the only Democrat on the Committee to be an original cosponsor of the bill; when the bill passed out of committee in March 2005, I called upon then-Majority Leader Frist to schedule floor time for the bill that summer. It did not occur.

In September of 2005, the Senator from Missouri, Mr. Bond, and I worked together on a bipartisan letter, signed by 40 of our colleagues, calling upon Senate Republican leadership to schedule floor time for this bill. We were informed that the support of 40 Senators was insufficient, that 60 signatures would be necessary. So we gathered 80 signatures. It was not until September 2006 that the Senate finally scheduled debate on WRDA, too late for the bill to be conferenced before the end of the 109th Congress.

I will ask that the text of those letters be printed in the Record.

Now it is September 2007, and at long last, the conference report has been completed. This bill authorizes almost $2 billion for upgrades to locks and dams along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Illinois is the largest shipper of corn and soybeans on these rivers, and the 70 year old system of locks and dams needs these upgrades to ensure swifter access to export markets--something, by the way, that competitors like Brazil are doing right now. A significant part of the farm economy is about reducing transportation costs, so if we are to strengthen our agriculture markets, we need to strengthen waterway transportation, and that means upgrading these locks and dams.

The bill also authorizes funding for a number of noteworthy Illinois projects, including the Keith Creek dam to prevent flooding in Rockford, Illinois, a third-party review of the disagreement in reconstructing Promontory Point in Chicago, and dredging at the Beardstown, Illinois harbor.

Remarkably, the President has proposed a veto of this bill, which includes approval for nationwide funding of critical flood control, navigation, environmental restoration, and storm damage reduction initiatives; the importance of such funding was tragically highlighted by Hurricane Katrina. I urge the President to drop that veto threat and support these long-delayed upgrades to our national infrastructure that were approved overwhelmingly by the House and Senate.

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