A RETURNING CONGRESS HAS MUCH TO TACKLE NEXT WEEK
Congress remains in recess until September 8, but will return to an ambitious agenda. With the lateness of Labor Day this year, the House will be in session during September for just 10 days to accomplish a heavy workload to include finishing FY2016 funding, which begins October 1. Progress has been made with individual appropriations bills for FY ’16, but no bill has completely made it to the President’s desk. With the need to finish 12 bills in a month’s time, a near-impossibility under current conditions, a Continuing Resolution (CR) is a certainty. The House is expected to begin to move its version of the CR within a day or two after Congress returns.
It is not certain how long the CR will extend, but most likely dates to measure against are through the end of October, when the highway program expires; the start of the Thanksgiving break on November 25; or the last day the House and Senate are scheduled to be in before leaving for the Christmas break, December 18.
Included in the CR will be “anomalies,” provisions that go beyond the mere extension of government funding at the end of the fiscal year for programs that have special needs and require authorization language. The Administration has already sent up its requests for these programs to Congress to review and decide which will proceed. As it typically has done in the past, Congress may reject many, if not most, of the requests as a way to negotiate later with the Administration to resolve the issues legislatively.
It is likely that the CR will be kept “clean,” with few riders attached, but supporters of controversial riders will seek to tack them onto the CR, such as Planned Parenthood (PP) funding. Conservatives in Congress will press to defund or further restrict PP funding, but will face resistance by Congressional Democrats and the Administration. While House Speaker Boehner and Senator Majority Leader McConnell have vowed to avoid a government shutdown, it remains a possibility. The CR, if clean, likely will continue Federal programs for FY ‘16 at FY ’15 funding levels, including the Energy & Water Development Appropriations bill that funds the Corps.
WHAT ELSE TO DEAL WITH?
A number of other issues will occupy Congress upon their return next week, including the joint resolution vote to disapprove the Iran nuclear deal expected in the House on September 17. High profile state visits by Pope Francis and President of China Xi Jinping, along with miscellaneous issues like stock market volatility, tax code reform, repatriation of foreign funds, budget structural reform, and political campaigning will occupy Congress’s attention as well.
BUDGET RECONCILIATION WAITING IN WINGS
Reconciliation, the special budget procedure that requires a simple Senate majority and disallows 41 senators to filibuster legislation, can still be used for FY 16 funding ahead. The budget reconciliation process is aimed at easing the passage of funding bills and could proceed on its own or together with one or more other pending legislative vehicles, such as an FY ‘16 omnibus appropriations bill.
Sequestration will go back into effect by October 1 if not postponed before then. The current highway program extension will expire on October 29, with another short-term extension likely. The authority for the Federal government to borrow money will expire in the mid-November-to-early-December timeframe. Tax provisions that expired on December 13, 2014 must be dealt with before the end of this year by the revenue committees. The Export/Import Bank authorization to allow new loans to be made has also expired. But funding to keep the Ex/Im program operating can continue once a CR is passed.
CORPS’ FY 2017 BUDGET IN THE WORKS
While still more than a year away, the Fiscal Year 2017 budget is being developed now and will be presented to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works (ASA (CW)) in the next week or two before negotiations with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) begin. Reach out to your Corps’ District now if you have requests or comments related to the FY ’17 budget.
USERS BOARD MEETS IN TENNESSEE
The Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) met August 12 in Nashville, addressing a number of important issues. One was the lack of a navigation priority list prescribed by WRRDA 2014 that was due to Congress June 10, but remains under review at OMB with no projected completion date. Chickamauga Lock was also discussed at length by the Board. A new Corps’ economic study indicates that the new Chickamauga lock under construction has more than doubled in cost with the current lock seeing reduced traffic. The decision to spend $360 million to replace worn structural anchors to keep the current one-barge lock chamber operational or spend $680 million to move ahead to build the new, 9-barge capacity chamber remains unresolved.
The Corps reported that construction on the Olmsted project remains ahead of the PACR-approved schedule, the Corps’ new asset management data will be used for the first time in developing the Administration’s FY ’17 Corps proposed budget, and the inland waterways 9-cent user fee increase that went into effect April 1, 2015 generated $10.5 million into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund just in June alone. At that rate, more than $120 million of revenue would be deposited into the Trust Fund each year.
The next meeting of the IWUB will be held in St. Louis the week of November 2 or 16th, to be determined.
OMB’S WAXMAN VISITS GALVESTON PROJECTS
OMB official Gary Waxman visited the Corps’ Galveston District this month, seeing various coastal and inland navigation projects, including the Brazos River floodgate, Colorado Lock, and the High Island to Brazos River and Matagorda Bay Re-route projects. Industry urged OMB to prioritize work on High Island and Matagorda Bay, and to expedite completion of feasibility studies for Brazos River and Colorado Lock.
FROM THE MIDWEST…
On September 1, Nebraska Corn Growers Association will tour Mel Price Lock and Dam, the first time seeing a Corps navigation project for many of those making the tour.
RiverWorks Discovery®: a Journey of Imagination and Exploration of America’s Waterways, a hands-on, educational exhibit designed to teach the importance of commerce, culture and conservation on America’s inland waterways, is on display at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul, MN from August 27 through September 30. The exhibit will travel to Washington, DC, to the Rayburn House Building on Capitol Hill, March 7-10, 2016. Details are forthcoming.
WCI/ILLINOIS CORN VIDEO SEEN BY 385,000+
WCI and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board have undertaken a two-month campaign with Google and YouTube to target more than one million people to view the 30-second video about the importance of the waterways to agriculture. Since the campaign began on August 10, to date more than 478,000 people have viewed the video in its entirety. See it and give it a “thumbs up” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khSc9wXDeq4
LOCK CLOSURES OF NOTE
Bayou Sorrel Lock was closed on August 15 and will remain shut down until October 15 for dewatering to perform maintenance and repairs. Calcasieu Lock is partially closed from August 24 through October 5. Closure and dewatering of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock, originally scheduled for this month, has been postponed until next year.
CONTACT CONGRESS TO URGE PED FOR NESP
WCI and many waterways stakeholder organizations have been calling for the continuation of Pre-Engineering Design (PED) funding in the amount of $10 million for the multi-purpose Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP). Please use WCI’s online Action Alert to contact your member of Congress to urge NESP PED funding today! Use this link and forward it to your employees: http://cqrcengage.com/wci/app/write-a-letter;jsessionid=wFbS7OK4ZKy9WAhYX5SUIbFp.undefined?0&engagementId=111953
MOU FOR RIETF SIGNED
On August 21, leadership from the River Industry Executive Task Force (RIETF), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and the inland towing industry to help ensure “consistent communications and support efficient and safe movement of commerce on the western rivers of the United States.” The MOU was signed by Jim Guidry (Kirby Inland Marine LP and RIETF co-chairman), Rear Admiral June E. Ryan (commander of the 9th Coast Guard District), Rear Admiral David R. Callahan (commander of the 8th Coast Guard District), Major General Michael C. Wehr (commander of the Corps’ Mississippi Valley Division), and Brigadier General Richard G. Kaiser (commander of the Corps’ Great Lakes and Ohio River Division).
UPCOMING INDUSTRY ACTIVITIES
- September 11: WCI Legislative Roundtable Discussion, 11 a.m. Eastern
- SAVE THE DATES: November 11-13: WCI/Informa Economics/Waterways Journal Fall Waterways Symposium (New Orleans, LA). Register online here: http://www.etouches.com/128790
- March 9-11, 2016: WCI Washington Meeting/Leadership Service Award Dinner (Madison Hotel, Washington, DC)
- August 10-12, 2016: GICA 111th Annual Meeting (New Orleans).