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Water Bill Latest Legislation Likely to Test Heritage-Leadership Divide

As the House returns to a slower legislative pace next week after the frenetic shutdown and debt ceiling standoff, House leaders have drafted a legislative schedule that appears to once again pit them against Heritage Action for America.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced Friday that the House will consider a bill beloved by infrastructure advocates and maligned by congressional spending critics: the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

Heritage Action said the bill “fails” in a number of areas and will likely result in “unnecessary” projects.

“Lawmakers,” Heritage Action said, “have proven themselves eager to approve of such projects in the past, especially when non-federal entities in their districts push for construction projects to receive authorization. Not good!”

But despite Heritage Action’s opposition, lawmakers are almost certain to approve the bill, which would provide about $9 billion for the conservation and development of water resources while deauthorizing roughly $12 billion in projects.

While it might seem like the bill would produce $3 billion in savings over current spending, Heritage points out that the Army Corps of Engineers develops the list of spending priorities, and Congress approves it — and that could end up producing a bigger price tag than what the Congressional Budget Office could possibly calculate.

Of course, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee says that line of thinking is all wrong.

“The price of this bill is not open-ended; it’s finite,” said Jim Billimoria, the communications director for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Billimoria explained that Congress would have to approve those projects in the future, and therefore, “Heritage and other conservatives” might consider opposing those proposals.

“But that has no bearing on this bill,” Billimoria said.

Heritage Action key voted against the Senate bill, which passed that chamber 83-14, and if they key vote against the House bill, which passed the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in a noncontroversial voice vote, it is likely to be yet another instance that pits Heritage Action against House leadership.

After a long shutdown and debt ceiling battle that frequently illuminated the growing divide between GOP leadership and the Heritage Foundation, which leadership once respected but now increasingly seems to revile, leaders might be looking for a few easy wins.

And if those wins just happen to be losses for Heritage Action, then so be it.

Cantor’s office points out that the water bill has long been on the agenda.

“The majority leader has listed it as a priority in several of his memos to members,” Cantor spokesman Doug Heye told CQ Roll Call.

Several other legislative slam dunks will be considered next week as well — a courthouse naming bill, a bill requiring background checks for school employees and a measure extending adoption grants for foster families.

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