Well, to say this one was a shocker is an understatement. The newly-elected President doesn’t take office until January 20th, and this Congress doesn’t officially expire until January 3rd. So, for the moment, we’re looking at the same President and the same composition of Congress that has been in place for the past two years. Of course, by the latter part of January, it will be a new ball game with a Republican President and a Republican-controlled Congress. That will have a significant impact on what the congressional leadership is willing to do when they return to “the swamp” next Tuesday. Let’s look at what it may mean for the passage of the 2016 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and funding for the Corps of Engineers’ civil works program.
There is no reason other than that old-fashioned notion of good government for the Republican leadership to want to pass an appropriations bill for any federal agency this year. They can cut spending and reorder spending priorities more when Trump takes office. If the Appropriations Committees had their way, however, they would get funding bills passed now and deal with next year after the Trump administration is able to put together a budget in cooperation with the Republican congressional leadership. The fly in that ointment is the House where Speaker Ryan distanced himself from Trump in a way that will make it hard from him to keep his job next year. For now, he would have to succeed in pushing through an Omnibus appropriations bill (for all federal agencies) in the face of the same conservative “Freedom Caucus” Republicans who will be out to dethrone him next year. I say the odds of having a long-term Continuing Resolution that goes through the entire FY18 are at least 60-40.
WRDA is a slightly different story. Although Trump likes infrastructure (his proposal during the campaign was for a trillion dollar infrastructure initiative) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has already extended the offer of working with him on a bipartisan infrastructure bill next year, let’s face it: water resources are not considered infrastructure by most people. We disagree, but for now, that’s the reality. Even if they were, WRDA doesn’t spend a single dollar! It just authorizes the expenditure of dollars.
The main problem with getting a WRDA bill this year is time. The House and Senate need to get their different bills conferenced and approved by their respective chambers in final form before Congress adjourns. Right now, I don’t see why this Congress would want to stay in session past December 15th – in fact that may try to adjourn a week before that. So the clock is the major enemy here and I give WRDA '16 at 55-45 chance of passage.
Please send any questions or comments you may have regarding WRDA to Waterlog@aldenst.com.
* The opinions expressed are mine and do not necessarily represent any client or organization with which I am associated.