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Oberstar: House and Senate Harmonizing to Smooth WRDA Passage

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) said today that he and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are harmonizing their efforts to quickly pass the long-stalled Water Resources Development Act.

The two key committee chairs are pursuing a two-pronged strategy, Oberstar told reporters: quickly passing WRDA legislation that includes projects that have cleared previous Congresses but deferring legislation for new projects until later this year. He made his comments after his committee unanimously passed the first WRDA reauthorization bill on a voice vote today.

WRDA — which funds Army Corps of Engineers water projects nationwide — has not passed since 2000, leaving the fate of hundreds of projects up in the air. Both the House and Senate passed WRDA bills last session, but the two chambers could not agree on a bill in conference, and the effort died. Prior to 2000, a new WRDA bill was typically passed every two years.

Oberstar said he had met with Boxer earlier this year and resolved the issues that killed WRDA in the 109th Congress. He and Boxer have “left as little as possible to conference,” he said. One controversial issue — independent oversight of Corps projects — will be addressed with virtually identical language in each chambers’ bills, he said.

Boxer’s committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on WRDA this morning.

Oberstar’s committee passed the estimated $13 billion bill, which includes projects addressing navigation, coastal restoration and numerous other water infrastructure projects. Oberstar estimated that nearly one-third of the bill will address Gulf of Mexico areas damaged by the 2005 hurricanes.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Bernice Johnson (R-Texas), chairman of the water resources and environment subcommittee, successfully offered a manager’s amendment that included a number of projects favored by committee Republicans that has been omitted during yesterday’s subcommittee markup because Members had not returned disclosure forms in time.

The committee accepted an amendment by voice vote from Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) that requires the Corps to employ at least 50 percent of their contract employees on a project locally. Also accepted on a voice vote was an amendment by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) that would give Corps priority to restoration projects in Louisiana to prevent damage from future hurricanes.

Oberstar said he hoped to get his bill to the floor next week or the week after.

“We’re ready to go to the floor,” he said.

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