The U.S. House passed a $12.3 billion water-projects bill that lawmakers said would boost dredging to accommodate larger ships built to transit the expanding Panama Canal.
The measure, passed 412-4, would be the first water infrastructure bill enacted since 2007. It would authorize 34 projects including dredging, flood control, hurricane recovery and environmental restoration.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act, H.R. 3080, would revamp the way major U.S. shipping projects are funded. The bill would allow ports to pay the cost of deepening harbors up front and then seek reimbursement from the government once a project is authorized by lawmakers. That could help facilities such as Port Everglades in South Florida reduce construction time by years.
"It is a jobs bill," House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster told reporters. In addition to construction jobs, the Pennsylvania Republican said, "when America invests in its infrastructure and keeps us competitive, that means our industry and business can be competitive and add jobs on the factory floor."
The measure would expand the number of U.S. ports that can handle super freighters built by Maersk Inc. and Mediterranean Shipping Co. to take advantage of the expanding Panama Canal. Expanded capacity would reduce shipping costs for exporters including Caterpillar Inc. and Cargill Inc.
All four House lawmakers voting against the measure were Republicans: Justin Amash of Michigan, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Matt Salmon of Arizona.
The bill was the subject of a lobbying campaign that industry groups said they want to make a model for future infrastructure bills. Shipping industry groups targeted Tea Party lawmakers by stressing the role of interstate commerce in the Constitution, and emphasizing quotes from founding fathers such as George Washington backing the construction of canals.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,, a Nevada Democrat, has said the Senate will act on the compromise bill this week.
By far the biggest spending project authorized in the measure is $6.7 billion for a Louisiana levee system called Morganza to the Gulf. Other flood-prevention projects in the bill are a diversion channel for the Red River of the North near Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota, as well as levees in the Natomas Basin in Sacramento, California.