Washington, D.C. Legislative Update: Turning the Tide?

Will Washington’s budget truce extend to other issues, and will the fiscal détente flow all the way to Tallahassee?

Congress may have achieved (at least for now) some form of budget détente, but that doesn’t mean bipartisan peace is breaking out on Capitol Hill. Battles still abound, some of which directly affect the Super Region.

Flood Insurance Fix. Delaying a massive increase in flood insurance rates remains a goal just out of reach. The Senate, with support from Florida Sens. Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R), in late January passed legislation providing a four-year delay in the rate hikes. The House so far has blocked attempts to address the issue, despite strong lobbying by Gov. Rick Scott, who personally called House Speaker John Boehner about the issue.

House Republicans are concerned the Senate fix does not adequately protect the federal flood insurance program from incurring significant losses. Even Super Region Republicans who favor a fix have thus far voted against bringing the Senate legislation to the House floor. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., promised a floor vote by the end of February, but at press time had yet to provide details of the plan.

WRDA Breakthrough? Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer indicated in a recent interview that negotiations with the House over a final Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization bill appear on track. The bill passed the House in late October, and the Senate quickly passed an amended version of the House bill. A conference committee has been working since to resolve differences between the two measures.

The legislation addresses a variety of coastal and inland water issues and includes provisions increasing the amount of money the federal government can spend on harbor projects.  Passage of the WRDA reauthorization bill could provide a boost to Florida’s efforts to accommodate the Panama Canal expansion (see cover story).

“We’ve had all this . . . great stuff going on at the state level; well, we started to realize that now a lot of our impediments were at the federal level,” said Doug Wheeler, president of the Florida Ports Council. “WRDA is certainly one piece of that.”

NASA Appropriations.  Tucked into the $1.012 trillion omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress early this year was $18 billion for NASA, including $1.2 billion for development of the Orion spacecraft. Overall space exploration funding was closer to the original Senate bill, but Orion funding was closer to the lower House number.

Citrus Greening Funding.  The Super Region remains the center of Florida’s huge citrus industry, and the Farm Bill recently passed by Congress authorizes $125 million across the next five years to research citrus greening disease, which has the potential to devastate the industry. The Super Region congressional delegation united behind the funding, even those who ultimately opposed the Farm Bill as a whole. The Farm Bill victory is only the first step in a two-part process, though. While the legislation authorizes spending the money, Congress still must vote each of the next five years on whether to actually appropriate the funds.