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Bill's passage could help Illinois

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

It may turn out that the recent partial shutdown of the federal government was a good thing for infrastructure needs on Illinois’ major rivers.

In a rare show of bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives voted 417-3 last week to approve the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, an $8.2 billion bill that lays out plans for improvements to dams, harbor, river navigation and other water projects nationwide for the next decade.

The overwhelming vote in favor of WRRDA came just a week after Congress voted to end the bitterly partisan showdown that had closed much of the federal government for 16 days and threatened to force the nation to default on its debt for the first time ever.

In what may be an encouraging sign, House Republicans voted for the bill in spite of opposition from some major conservative groups, including FreedomWorks, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Heritage Action for America. One way the GOP lawmakers justified their support for WRRDA was by framing it as a job creation bill. The bill’s sponsors emphasized the measure’s lack of earmarks, or projects for lawmakers’ home districts; they also pointed out changes that include an acceleration of required environmental reviews that have delayed many projects for years.

In another show of bipartisanship, two Illinois congressmen came to Alton late last week to hold a news conference trumpeting the successful passage of WRRDA. U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, explained their support for the bill and also credited their colleague, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, who joined the majority in voting for it.

The congressmen’s appearance in Alton was especially significant because they used the Melvin Price Locks and Dam 26 on the Mississippi River as a backdrop.

The state’s major farm groups, including the Illinois Farm Bureau, also threw their support behind WRRDA, noting the importance of an efficient and well-functioning barge industry to transport the state’s agricultural products to ports such as New Orleans and markets beyond all over the world.

A number of congressmen say the passage of WRRDA demonstrates that Congress can work together to do what’s best for the country as a whole. Of course, the House and the U.S. Senate still need to reconcile their differing versions of the bill to reach agreement on a final version of the legislation that can be sent to President Barack Obama.

But if they can do that, the country may end up with not only improved river infrastructure, but also a new spirit of cooperation and concern for the national interest between the two political parties.

The (Alton) Telegraph

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