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Water Resources Development Act of 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I join my colleague in rising in support of this strong, bipartisan, reform-oriented Water Resources Development Act bill. In doing so, I thank and salute Senator Boxer for her leadership. More than anyone else, she got us to the floor today with a strong, solid bill.

As Senator Boxer mentioned, very early on in our discussions about the work of the EPW Committee in this Congress, we set a good, solid, bipartisan, reform-oriented WRDA bill as our top immediate goal in terms of something the committee could produce and actually pass into law. In fact, those discussions even started between her and myself, in particular, before the start of this Congress. Of course they continued and they ramped up in a meaningful and substantive way. Through that give-and-take and through that real commitment to work in a bipartisan fashion on infrastructure, on jobs, on issues on which we can agree, this bill resulted.

Again, as she mentioned, we do not agree on everything. We do not agree on everything in the committee, and that committee is often very contentious and divided along ideological lines. But this is a subject where we can agree and work productively together because this bill is about infrastructure and jobs. Certainly we can come together around that. That is what it is fundamentally about--water infrastructure, commerce, and jobs. That is why the Alliance for Manufacturing said almost 24,000 jobs will be created for every $1 billion invested in levees, inland waterways, and dams. This bill does several billion dollars of that. That produces jobs because it is building the necessary infrastructure we need for waterborne commerce. Ultimately that core, that theme, that common goal is what brought us effectively together.

The proof of that is seen in the committee consideration of this bill. As you may know, the EPW Committee is a divided committee. On many key issues before us we are very divided between Republicans and Democrats. Yet because of this focus in the bill on maritime commerce, jobs, infrastructure, we won an 18-to-0 committee vote to report the bill out favorably and bring it to the floor.

Let me talk for a few minutes about exactly what is in the bill. I want to go through the highlights. I think they can best be summarized by focusing on 10 specific points, what is in the bill, what the bill does, sometimes, just as importantly, what is not in the bill and what the bill does not do.

First of all, the bill does not increase deficit and debt in any way. There is no negative impact on deficit and debt. Related to that, No. 2, there are no earmarks in the bill. The current rules of both conferences are not to support and sponsor earmarks. There are no earmarks in the bill.

What does the bill affirmatively do? No. 3, it authorizes 19 significant projects for flood protection, navigation, and ecosystem restoration. Yet at the same time, even on the authorization side, we create a mechanism--I thank Senator Barrasso for contributing this important element to the bill--we create a BRAC-like commission to deauthorize some old projects which are not being acted upon, which are not getting built.

Because of that new BRAC-like deauthorization commission, even on the authorization side, we should have a net-neutral impact on authorizations. The way we have structured it, we should not be increasing overall net authorizations.

No. 4, we have made substantial progress and reforms to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and spending on dredging and other Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund projects.

As Senator Boxer mentioned, it has been an enormous frustration to many of us that this so-called trust fund is raided every year so that even in a good year, half of the supposedly dedicated revenue from the industry in those trust funds is used for other purposes. Again, this is revenue from the maritime industry. It is supposed to be protected and dedicated for dredging and other delineated purposes, but even in a good year, half is used for other things, with deficit spending.

We have negotiated with all Members of the Senate, including the leaders of the Appropriations Committee, and I think we have made substantial progress. I think we have made a big move in the right direction so we ramp up harbor maintenance trust fund spending for dredging and other delineated purposes.

In a few years--between now and roughly 2019, 2020--we have a steady ramp-up. We spend more of that trust fund on the agreed-upon delineated purposes every year. We are building toward full spend-out of the trust fund. Again, this is a product of a lot of discussion and goodwill negotiation with other Members of the Senate, including leaders of the Appropriations Committee, which is a major and positive element of this bill.

No. 5, we also made important reforms and changes to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. Again, there has been real frustration that those inland waterways trust fund projects have been languishing and have not properly received the resources they need to be completed and get off the books. We have made real reforms on the Inland Waterway Trust Fund side that will have important and positive impacts to get those important projects built.

No. 6, we provide non-Federal sponsors of many of these projects more project management control in both the feasibility study and the construction phases of projects. This has been an idea in a stand-alone bill of Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and myself. We incorporated that reform--that pilot project--into this WRDA bill.

In several significant cases, on a sort of experimental basis, we are going to ask the non-Federal sponsors to take over project management control. We think that is going to allow these projects to get built quicker and more efficiently for less money.

No. 7, we require more accountability of the Corps of Engineers on project schedules. We increased public disclosure of internal Corps decisions, and we actually penalized the Corps for the first time ever when they missed significant deadlines. Again, Senator Boxer mentioned this.

We had discussions right out of the box and came to the agreement that we are not going to lower the bar about environmental review; we are not going to substantively change any environmental or other requirements. What we are going to do is make sure that agencies which are involved do their work in a timely and expeditious way, and that has to start with the Corps of Engineers in terms of these projects. We do that with much heightened Corps accountability.

No. 8, in a similar vein, we accelerate the NEPA and project delivery process to ensure that projects are not endlessly held up by government bureaucracy, tangles, and redtape. Again, it is exactly the same approach and agreement I mentioned with regard to point No. 7. We are not changing standards or lessening our requirements. We are appropriately streamlining the process and saying: Everybody works on deadlines, and the Federal agencies involved have to work on and respect those deadlines as well. If they miss them over and over and over, there will be negative consequences, and that is an important reform element to this bill.

No. 9, as Senator Boxer mentioned, we provide an innovative financing mechanism for water resource projects as well as water and wastewater infrastructure projects. It is called WIFIA because it is modeled on the TIFIA Program on the transportation side, and it is very much the same basic idea. TIFIA has long been a model to build public-private partnerships and has helped to finance important transportation infrastructure projects.

On the last highway bill last year that I helped work on and Senator Boxer led on, we expanded the TIFIA Program. Here we are using the same positive model for a WIFIA program.

Finally, No. 10, we provide more credit opportunities for non-Federal sponsors either in lieu of financial reimbursement or cross-crediting among projects so they can more reasonably meet their wetlands mitigation and other needs.

Wetlands mitigation requirements have grown much more onerous and expensive over time in a lot of places of the country, including Louisiana. This is simply intended to give people, local government, private industry, and others, more options. It is not to lower the standard for that mitigation, but it allows for more options to meet the standard and goals in a more efficient and less costly way. So we do that through these credit opportunities.

Those are the important and 10 key highlights of the bill. Again, I think it is a genuine bipartisan reform-oriented effort that is, at its core, about water infrastructure, waterborne commerce, jobs, and hurricane and flood protection.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the clearest proof of that is committee consideration and committee vote. There are not many things that ever get an 18-0 vote in the Senate EPW Committee, but this did. Strong conservatives and strong liberals voted with a result of 18-0. I am very proud of that, and I think that gives us a very productive path forward.

Speaking of the path forward, let me underscore and emphasize what Senator Boxer has laid out. We want to have votes; we want to process amendments. There is no goal here to frustrate that in any way by me or Senator Boxer or anyone. In my opinion, to get that ball rolling, the best way to get there is to start taking up amendments and having votes so we can build on that momentum. What we are going to propose in the very near future is that our substitute amendment be adopted by unanimous consent to be the underlying bill.

It is noncontroversial. It incorporates the ideas and suggestions of dozens of Senators. There is nothing controversial in it. In fact, the only thing it does is remove some potential controversy in the bill. So we are going to ask the full Senate allow us, by UC, to adopt that as the underlying bill.

We are also going to immediately ask to have debate and votes on three or four beginning amendments. I believe those, in fact, are going to be nongermane amendments. I think that underscores and illustrates our goodwill about processing amendments, getting it going, taking amendments, having votes, and getting through this process.

I would suggest, as Senator Boxer did, that we try to continue to focus on the important subject matter of the bill and not endlessly or needlessly go far afield. But I do think that proposing these amendment votes straight out is an important gesture of goodwill to set the right precedent and tone for a full and open debate on the floor, and so that is what we are going to do.

As soon as that UC request is drafted and ready, I will come to the full Senate with that. If we can gain consent for that, I think it will start us on a very productive path, both to consider the bill and to process amendments and have votes.

Clearly those amendments would not be the end of it, by far. We are already keying up some amendments to come forward right after that so we can debate those maybe tonight. If we do that, we can vote on those as soon as possible, perhaps in the morning, and go from there. That is my goal and expectation in terms of the near future, which Senator Boxer shares. Hopefully we will return to the full Senate quickly with that request.

Thank you, Mr. President.

I yield to the distinguished Senator from Rhode Island.

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Mr. VITTER. Madam President, I thank my colleagues from Missouri and Florida for this very worthwhile amendment. I will certainly be supporting it. The plan is to have this in the second set of amendments for votes, absolutely, as soon as we can proceed to votes. That is the plan, which I fully expect to be executed. I thank them for their work and for their contribution.

In the same vein, we are expecting Senator Inhofe to join us on the floor to also present without formally calling up his germane amendment. That way, we will have that discussion ahead of time, and that also will be all teed up for the second set of amendments we hope to have on this bill.

I hope what this underscores is that we have a pretty good plan to move forward quickly, to start having votes. Sometimes around here we want to settle every possible discussion about every possible amendment vote out there. In my opinion, it is more productive to start because you can't finish unless you start. I think we want to start having important votes, including nongermane votes, and get to absolutely every amendment we can. I think we are on that path. Hopefully we will be doing that today and then formally presenting and voting on the Blunt-Nelson amendment as well as the Inhofe amendment and other amendments tomorrow.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I again thank my colleagues from Arkansas and Oklahoma. I support their measure. I thank them for coming down and laying out the argument explaining their measure even before it is formally presented because that will help expedite the process. We are absolutely working on that formal consideration and vote as soon as possible, just as we are on the amendment we talked about a few minutes ago, the Blunt-Nelson amendment.

I thank them for their work. I thank them for coming to the floor to expedite debate. We are absolutely working on proceeding to get to formal consideration of their amendment and a vote.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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