On May 21st, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill for FY2016, totaling $35.4 billion. This represents a $1.2 billion increase over FY2015 and $666 million below the President's requested level. The House passed its version of the appropriations bill on May 1st.
The bill provides nearly $5.5 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fund the nation's water infrastructure. The Senate version differs in its funding allocations from the bill approved by the House. The Senate Appropriations Committee recommendations include $109 million in Investigations funding ($4 million less than the House), $1.64 billion in Construction money ($6 million more than the House), and $2.91 billion for the Operations & Maintenance account ($185 million less than the House). Specifically, the Senate bill provides only $1 million in additional funding for shore protection, whereas the House allocated $45 million. Additionally, the Senate committee did not recommend allocations for small shore protection projects under Section 103, despite the House recommendation for $1.25 million for the line item.
While the funding amounts for Investigations and O&M are not as generous as those made by the House, the Senate did provide for additional "new start" projects. The Senate Appropriations Committee provides funding for 10 new feasibility study starts and six new constructions starts, four of which will cover new start projects in the Administration's budget request. Notably, at least five of the 10 Investigation new starts must be pre-construction, engineering, and design (PED) projects that have signed Chief's Reports as of the start of the new fiscal year (October 1, 2015). This marks a major shift away from the restrictions on new start projects by both Congress and the Administration over the past several years.
The bill also increases the allocation of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) dollars from $1.178 billion in the House to $1.254 billion in the Senate version of the bill. The Senate bill would use the full estimated annual revenues from the HMTF and the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. HMTF money goes to infrastructure projects in the nation's ports, harbors, channels, and waterways.
“This appropriations bill is forward-looking in its approach to responsibly providing for our national nuclear security, waterways management, flood control, and energy security despite limited resources. All these areas are important to the day-to-day lives of Americans, and I think this bill will serve them well,” said Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I appreciate [Subcommittee Chairman] Senator Alexander and Ranking Member Feinstein for their diligence and commitment to producing a sensible appropriations bill.”
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee, stated that she supports the bill but believes that it reveals the serious flaws of sequestration and budgeting under the Budget Control Act. Specifically, money collected under the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is not being released for vital port projects, despite increased allocations made by Congress, because of spending limitations under the law.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Vice Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, introduced a Democratic alternative budget proposal of $1.019 trillion that does not adhere to limitations put in place by the Budget Control Act. The move failed by a vote along party lines of 14-16. Additionally, Senator Feinstein introduced an amendment that would allocate funds to water infrastructure projects should a larger budget alternative pass. This too failed by a party line vote of 14-16.
The bill will now move to the Senate floor. If the bill passes, it will move to conference in order to reconcile differences with the House version. Upon passage of identical bills in both chambers, the bill will be sent to the President's desk for his signature.
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