The bills try to address perceptions of years past that water project legislation was loaded with favors inserted by key lawmakers for their home districts and states. This time, both bills eliminate billions of dollars in dormant and duplicative projects. Shuster stressed that this bill contains no such "earmarks."
Those reforms still aren't enough for some conservative groups that pressed lawmakers to oppose the bills, saying they are reform in name only and don't do enough to cut spending.
"Even before the predictable increase in authorizations as this bill goes through the process, this legislation would only shave a few billion dollars off the backlog," Heritage Action and other groups wrote House members.
Tea party sympathizers in the House largely brushed off conservative critics, buying into the idea that this water projects bill represents both reform and needed investment. To wavering Republicans, Schuster cited Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which directs Congress to establish roads and regulate interstate commerce.
For their part, Democrats breezed past environmental groups concerned about language that speeds up the environmental review process for projects.
The House bill passed 417-3 in late October, winning support of everyone from Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to tea party stalwarts like Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. The Senate easily passed its version of the bill in May by a vote of 83-14.
Both bills accelerate environmental reviews and allow more money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be spent on harbor improvements, but the House version of the bill ramps up spending from the fund more slowly.
The legislation would affect virtually every facet of America's waterways and authorizes or reauthorizes dozens of projects, though Congress still has to pass separate bills appropriating money for them.
—Dredging and widening the Sabine-Neches Waterway, billed as "America's Energy Gateway" because the nearly 80-mile waterway services many oil and natural gas refineries in Texas and Louisiana.