Bill authorizing Army Corps water projects hits roadblock

Senator opposes conference report, arguing it doesn’t do enough to change how projects are reviewed and approved.

Senators left for the recess without acting on a conference report to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act, though supporters expect to act soon after Congress reconvenes in September.

Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., objected late Friday when Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked for unanimous consent to bring the conference report to the floor. The chamber had shortly before passed legislation on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when Reid attempted to bring up the water resources bill.

The Senate is expected to approve the measure by more than the two-thirds support needed to override a threatened veto. The House last week approved it 381-40. Feingold opposes the conference report because he does not believe it goes far enough in changing how Army Corps of Engineers projects are reviewed and approved.

On Wednesday, Feingold praised the Bush administration's veto threat and said the conference report "significantly weakened" Army Corps reform and raised the price tag of the bill to $21 billion.

"This conference report has been stripped of important independent review safeguards that would ensure accountability and prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from manipulating the way projects are planned," Feingold said in a statement.

Feingold supported a Senate-passed bill that authorized nearly $14 billion in Army Corps water infrastructure projects and included language requiring independent reviews of projects that cost at least $40 million; projects requested by an affected governor or head of a federal agency or projects deemed controversial.

The conference report requires independent reviews when the cost of a project exceeds $45 million; when an affected governor requests one; or if the Army Corps chief determines the project is controversial.

Supporters of the conference report last week attempted to "hotline" the bill, but senators from both parties objected. Some senators have opposed the cost of water resources bills in recent years and have tried to block expedited approval. Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., has said that while he is a fiscal conservative, he strongly supports the conference report.

"There are two things we ought to be spending money on in this country. One is national defense and the other is infrastructure," Inhofe said Friday.