The two lawmakers responsible for crafting the Senate’s $9 billion water infrastructure bill said the overwhelming passage of the House’s smaller version means they can work quickly to find a compromise.
Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, the top two members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, committed to reaching a compromise after the House voted on the $5 billion Water Resources Development Act.
Both chambers included funding for Flint, the city of 100,00 in eastern Michigan whose drinking water is contaminated with lead. But the House bill includes $50 million less for Flint, $170 million compared to $220 million in the Senate version, and is half as large.
“The strong, bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives is a clear sign that we can reconcile the House and Senate bills swiftly and smoothly,” the statement from the two senators read.
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“We are confident that Congress will send to the president’s desk this year another robust bipartisan infrastructure bill, which will grow the economy, improve public safety and restore ecosystems while also providing support to communities facing failing water and wastewater infrastructure.”
It’s going to be a race against time in the lame-duck session following the November elections to get the bill done. Congress is out until the week after the election, is in session for a few days and then breaks for Thanksgiving week. After that, there will be a four-week rush to finish legislation before the end of the session.
However, the Water Resources Development Act might have one of the best prognoses among unfinished legislation in Congress. It passed the Senate 95-3 and the House 399-25.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said getting the bill through conference by the end of the year has to be among Congress’ top priorities.
Shuster and Inhofe have made repeated pleas to their colleagues to keep to a two-year schedule of passing similar water infrastructure legislation.
In addition, both chairmen have promised that aid for Flint will be included in the final version of the bill. Given that Congress threatened to shut down the government over Democrats’ desire to get a funding deal for Flint, the pressure will be on to make sure aid is sent to the city.
Getting the legislation through conference quickly is critical to keeping to that schedule, Shuster said.
“The House and Senate now need to finish their work and send a final WRDA measure to the president before the end of the year,” he said. “We can’t afford to delay this critical bill.”